Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday Week in Review

What did Donald Trump do this past week?

Today, Trump defended his diplomatically awkward phone conversation with Taiwan's president by noting that China has also done things that offend the United States. The casual approach to these calls that Trump has taken during his transition may have something to do with the fact that he has been largely avoiding his intelligence briefings.

Earlier in the week Trump suggested, through his surrogate Kellyanne Conway, that he would not investigate or prosecute Hillary Clinton for unspecified crimes he believed she'd committed while she was Secretary of State because he was "magnanimous" in victory. Later, after a heated exchange with Clinton campaign officials, Conway partially reversed herself, saying that Clinton could possibly face investigation by Trump's Justice Department after all. The DOJ investigates and prosecutes federal crimes, but presidents cannot order its officials to investigate or prosecute specific individuals--nor can they order investigations stopped.

Trump tweeted that he would soon announce plans to avoid conflicts of interest by drafting legal documents that would take him "completely out of business operations" of his various companies. As the Office of Government Ethics noted, unless this is an odd way of saying that he will be fully divesting (selling off his ownership stake) to a non-family member, there will inevitably be conflicts of interest. Trump's adult children have taken an active role in his transition and met with foreign leaders since his election.

Who cares?

  • Presidents probably shouldn't make it sound like law enforcement depends on their personal moods.
  • It's bad if a president's efforts to avoid the appearance of impropriety don't avoid the appearance of impropriety.
  • Presidents-elect with no government experience and no particular knowledge of foreign affairs really ought to be going to intelligence briefings.