A conflict of interest monitor for President Trump?

The past few days has seen a near avalanche of news stories on the looming conflicts of interest that will arise from Donald Trump’s being President while being the owner of a wide range of real estate and other interests. There has never been anything like it in the history of the Presidency, and the solution suggested by the President elect – having his children assume management of his interests – would do little to mitigate the conflicts (since he would still know which properties he owned and could use his official power to benefit such properties).

One solution I haven’t seen proposed is the use of a special monitor to help identify COIs facing the President and assure that they are dealt with appropriately. Monitors have been used for decades to assure ethical conduct in a variety of settings, such as public sector construction projects or the operation of companies after a criminal conviction. While novel (I think), a monitor of the sort suggested here might go a long way to mitigating both the actuality and appearance of COIs.

Of course, Trump might resist what he could see as a stigmatizing implication of such an arrangement, but the monitorship needn’t be viewed in a negative light. After all, COIs are not inherently bad – rather, they are circumstances that create the possibility of something bad happening, unless mitigated in an effective manner.

Such a monitoring arrangement could be challenging in other ways, too. For example, the monitor would presumably need to report to the public periodically on her findings and recommendations – but at the same time protect the legitimate privacy interests of the Trump family and their fellow investors.

For this and other reasons it wouldn’t be easy. But what’s the alternative? A government in which – to modify words attributed to the late Leona Helmsley – ethics would be seen as only “for the little people.” Both for the country itself and Trump’s success as President that would be substantially worse than the inconveniences of a COI monitorship.

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