President-Elect Donald Trump has a big problem: his family business. Yesterday was the day Mr. Trump was to hold a news conference detailing how he was going to separate himself as President from the Trump Organization, and hand over the business operations to his three eldest children: Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric. That’s being put off until January.
Now we learn Ivanka is going to be taking up the office space in the White House East Wing normally occupied by the First Lady and staff, with the office being recast as the “Office of the First Family”. Reports now are that she won’t be involved in the day-to-day business operations. Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, is one of the President-Elect’s closest advisers. All three of Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric have participated in interviews of perspective cabinet members and have also sat in on meetings or calls with foreign leaders and diplomats. It’s completely unclear how Mr. Trump is going to disentangle himself from his business, and with his kids clearly remaining in the daily inner circle, thinking he will be detached is pretty much a stretch.
Mr. Trump can’t even use the Michael Corleone excuse (“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”) because it’s unrealistic given the family’s role in the empire he’ll ever be out.
Right now, the busiest member of the Trump White House is likely to be Don McGahn, who will be the White House counsel. The counsel’s office is going to be humming 24×7 with all the conflicts-of-interest concerns already and yet-to-be raised.
What Mr. Trump needs to do is to turn over his business dealings to someone who has no familial connection to himself or his children.
Someone who has sharp business acumen, an impeccable reputation, and unquestioned morals and ethics.
Someone who has already said that they’d be willing to serve their country and this President.
The solution should be right before Donald Trump’s eyes: hire Mitt Romney to run his businesses.
Romney’s straight-shooter reputation would put instantaneous credibility behind a Trump-as-businessman vs. Trump-as-President separation. The younger Trumps might have to swallow a bitter pill either being out of the business while their father sits in the Oval Office, or having to report to an outsider-brought-in, but they should have the same goal as the elder Trump’s stated one: a focused Presidency above business concerns.
Many of the “Never Trump” set (myself included) found a lot of glee in the possibility of Trump naming Romney as his Secretary of State. It would have been fantastic watching the Trump true believers defending the choice. At this point, I hope that a Trump Presidency does surprise me, and not meet my exceedingly low expectations.
Mitt Romney has experience entering an organization with not just ethics and conflicts-of-interest questions. The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City were faced with open scandal and financial collapse when Romney took them over. His business smarts and high standard of conduct turned things around, staged a successful games held with vastly increased security concerns in the immediate wake of 9/11, and produced a $100 million surplus in a budget of $1.32 billion.
Romney’s business record is impressive. He’s a solid foundation on which 45th President of the United States can keep his business empire safe until he can have it back conflict-free.
If Mr. Trump taps Mr. Romney in this way, in the long and short runs he’ll be glad he didn’t send him to the State Department. So will America.