We in the news business like to report on what we’ve learned, but with all the questions about potential business conflicts with the new president, we’re finding out how much we don’t know. So, bottom-line for us here, what role will Chicago’s Trump Tower play in the legal fight over presidential ethics? WGN Investigates looks at President Trump’s Chicago businesses and wound up with more questions than answers.
Trump says that he has no conflict as president. The president says he could actually run his business and the country, but doesn’t want to do that. So, because of the appearance of a conflict, Mr. Trump says he’s stepping down from managing his more than 400 businesses.
During a recent news conference, he showed off volumes of paperwork, stacks that no one in the media was allowed to read. When reporters raised questions, CNN received a two line statement dated the day before the president’s inauguration saying, “I, Donald J. Trump, hereby resign from each and every office and position I hold in the entities listed on Exhibit A hereto. My resignation shall be effective immediately.”
At the news conference, then President Elect Trump brought up his attorney to make another promise, that his holdings will be put into a trust.
That promise applies to the Trump Tower in Chicago. Yet when WGN Investigates asked to see the trust records, there was no comment from the Trump organization or the private law firm hired by President Trump.
A lack of information prompted the first lawsuit charging the president with violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution prohibiting a foreign gift.
Eugene Kontorovich, a constitution law professor at Northwestern College of Law, believes, in this case, using the Emoluments Clause drafted by America’s Founding Fathers is an overreach.
He told WGN, “The argument that these business dealings constitute emoluments on the whole are probably wrong but not crazy. However, this lawsuit is indeed crazy because the plaintiffs have no standing. So in the American system of justice, you can’t just sue because you have to be specifically effected by the action.”
Attached to President Trump’s two-line statement about resigning control of his companies were 17 pages of businesses that he will still own while in office. It includes more than a dozen tied to Chicago. Only one has Mr. Trump’s name on the document. The rest go to other businesses with names like TIMH. Dig deeper, TIMH links to Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka. The President says he’s not managing it, but still owns it.
That leaves you to decide.
Professor Kontorovich says, “It’s important to separate what we think is bad from what we think is unconstitutional because that degrades the role of the constitution into politics.”
Under Illinois law, the Trump organization has until November 2017 to update its records, showing new management. According to the Illinois Secretary of State, there is no rule that requires companies like Trump’s to list his percentage of ownership. In Illinois we may never know who, if anyone, has invested in the new president’s Chicago business.
For now, we wait for the court to weigh in.
However when the court weighs in, the lawsuit filed against President Trump over the constitutional clause also seeks to force him to release his tax returns to better understand his finances.
His taxes became a heated campaign issue and the president has yet to release them.