President-elect Donald Trump has disclosed owning millions of dollars of stock in companies with business pending before the U.S. government and whose value could rise as a result of his policies.
From Washington Post
Trump’s stock holdings, which are separate from the more high-profile real estate and branding empire that he has said he will separate from in some fashion, represent another area rife with potential conflicts of interest that Trump has yet to address as he prepares to take office.
Trump’s stock holdings, as of his most recent disclosure in May, included millions of dollars worth of shares in financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo, which have seen their stock prices rise with his promises to roll back regulations imposed after the 2008 financial crash. He has held substantial numbers of shares in Apple and a unit of Ford, companies whose executives he has spoken with since the election as part of his efforts to press corporations not to ship jobs overseas.
Trump’s portfolio also has been dotted with millions of dollars worth of shares in oil and other energy companies that could stand to gain if he follows through on promises to loosen environmental regulations and pursue more drilling — including Halliburton, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and Phillips 66.
“In truth, what we’re looking at is a president-elect who has a personal financial stake in every major climate battle that is going on. That is indeed a troubling conflict of interest,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, which has clashed with Exxon.
Trump tweeted Wednesday that he will hold a news conference Dec. 15 to explain how he will separate himself from his own business, the Trump Organization, to avoid the appearance of a conflict — though he has continued to meet with international business partners since his election victory and acknowledged that his presidency is good for the brand.
But Trump has been silent on whether that announcement will also explain what he will do about his stocks. His May disclosure showed he held stocks that were worth as much as $40 million. A Trump spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.
Ethics experts said Trump could solve the matter relatively easily, as have past presidents, by selling his portfolio or placing it in a blind trust over which he had no control.
Trump’s stock portfolio presents “a smaller bore but significant example of the same problem he has with the Trump Organization,” said Norm Eisen, who served as special ethics counsel to President Obama and has been critical of Trump’s conflicts.
“Nobody will know if the decisions he’s making are influenced by the public interest or by his and his family’s personal financial interests,” Eisen said.
In recent years, Congress has showed particular sensitivity to the possible self-enrichment available to elected officials who hold stock.
Under the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or “STOCK” Act, passed in 2012 on a near-unanimous bipartisan vote and signed into law by Obama, elected officials are forbidden from using non-public information they learn through their official position to guide stock transactions. They must also publicly disclose any stock trades worth more than $1,000 within 45 days of the transaction.
The law applies to members of Congress as well as to the president and vice president and other officials, though it specifically excludes certain categories of assets, including real estate and the holdings of blind trusts.
Experts said the new law, while extraordinarily narrow, may provide one of the only regular opportunities for the public to see how Trump is handling his private business interests as president, were he to continue trading on the stock market after taking office.
Under conflict of interest laws, presidents are otherwise only required to provide information about their public finances once a year. Because Trump filed a financial disclosure as a presidential candidate in May, he will not be required to outline his private holdings again until May 2018, when he will report his 2017 finances.
Trump, more than any other modern president, will test the system of disclosure. Not only does he enter office after building a large and sprawling business and substantial investments, but he also has demonstrated an unwillingness to be transparent by refusing to release his tax returns, breaking with four decades of tradition during the campaign. There is little expectation Trump will release his tax returns as president, either.
Peter Schweizer, a conservative author whose 2011 book “Throw Them All Out,” about stock trades by members of Congress helped inspire passage of the new law, called on Trump to use the STOCK Act’s model of frequent disclosure to guide voluntary disclosures about other aspects of his business.
“Transparency is the best antidote to corruption,” said Schweizer, who has worked closely with Trump senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon. As president of a group Bannon chaired, Schweizer wrote “Clinton Cash,” which alleged Hillary Clinton faced potential conflicts of interest because of donors to her husband’s foundation.
The lack of regular disclosure makes assessing Trump’s stock holdings as he enters office difficult. Trump’s stock portfolio, as disclosed in May, was full of possible areas of conflict. However, he told Fox Business News in August that he was dumping stocks because he predicted the market was crashing. “I did invest, and I got out, and it was actually very good timing,” he said then.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks did not respond to questions about whether Trump indeed sold stocks at the time. In the interview, he also predicted the market would improve if he won.
So far, Hicks has confirmed only one Trump trade since his last legally required disclosure. Over the summer, she said Trump sold his shares in Energy Transfer Partners, the majority stakeholder in the $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline project that has drawn protests from environmentalists and Native Americans. They have hoped the federal government will intervene in support of their opposition.
Trump had disclosed in May 2015 that he owned between $500,000 and $1 million worth of stock in the company. Candidates are required to disclose such holdings only in broad ranges. By May 2016, when Trump updated his annual filing, the value of the holding had fallen to less than $50,000. The company’s chief executive was a major campaign donor to Trump, but its stock had declined in value in the face of protests.
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