Trump Adviser Dismisses Potential Business Conflicts, Defends Children's Roles

Nov 21, 2016
Originally published on November 22, 2016 10:25 am

Kellyanne Conway, a Trump transition senior adviser, defended President-elect Donald Trump's handling of his business interests, telling NPR in an interview that concerns about the influence his children may have in mixing their roles and the Trump companies with advising their father are unfounded.

"They're going to support their father as president of the United States the way they've always supported his presidential candidacy, and they'll continue to be supportive at the same time," Conway, who served as Trump's campaign manager, told NPR's Audie Cornish in an interview Monday on All Things Considered. "They'll continue to be wildly successful in the business world."

The roles Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka Trump play in the White House have come under scrutiny. The children were said to be set to run the Trump businesses through a "blind trust," but all three also serve on their father's transition team. Though a Trump lawyer referred to the setup of the children running the organization as a "blind trust," that's not the way one works.

Typically when presidents or officeholders use a blind trust it's when their investments are handled by an investor, and they have no ability to manage or change them. That's crucial given a president's or key member of Congress' role in legislation or world events that can affect stock prices, investments or business interests. Trump has business entanglements and properties in the United States and all over the world.

Trump's daughter, Ivanka, sat in on a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week, raising questions about the mixing of the family's business and politics. There were initial reports that Trump had inquired about security clearance for his children, but the president-elect has denied that. Still, it's clear his children have influence with their father when it comes to politics, and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, Ivanka's husband, figures to play a potentially prominent role in a Trump White House, formally or informally.

Conway told NPR that Trump would "comply with the law" and is consulting with "proper legal advisers." But there is hardly any precedent for a person with Trump's wealth and active business interests serving as leader of the free world.

Conway pushed back on the idea that Trump should sign a pledge of any kind not to further his business interests while in the White House. Earlier on Monday, an Argentine newspaper, La Nacion, reported that Trump had asked the country's president to help with business permits for a Trump office building in their call last week. Spokesmen for both Trump and Argentine President Mauricio Macri both denied the report.

"It's a very interesting situation to have a president-elect that is such a successful businessman and has so many holdings," Conway acknowledged.

Conway also commented on talk of a potential registry of Muslims in the country, saying it had been covered unfairly. She explained that Trump's "main concern is making sure" there's a system in place to better vet immigrants from "countries that tend to train and export and harbor terrorists."

"It is not a blanket situation," Conway argued. "He's made it very narrowly prescribed to countries that fit a particular description."

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on NBC's Meet The Press on Sunday that he wasn't "going to rule anything out" but that "we're not going to have a registry based on a religion," though "some people that are radicalized ... have to be prevented from coming into this country."

Conway also told NPR that the president-elect would hold a news conference "at some point" but that "anytime you try to apply conventional techniques to Donald Trump you're going to be disappointed."

Trump hasn't held a news conference since July 27, and he has waited longer than any president since Jimmy Carter to hold one after becoming president-elect.

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We turn now to Kellyanne Conway. She was the campaign manager for Donald Trump's presidential bid. Now she's a senior adviser on his transition team. Welcome to the program.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Oh, thanks for having me.

CORNISH: Now, obviously Donald Trump is very busy with the process of building his transition team. But with all the rumors and conversation out there, it occurs to us that maybe he could clarify by holding a post-election press conference, which he has not done, which would commonly have been done by now. Should we expect one soon?

CONWAY: At some point, he'll do a press conference, but any time you try to apply conventional techniques to Donald Trump, you're going to be disappointed. The other people who ran and won were very accustomed to political-type press conferences, and he's spending his days, as you see because we publish his schedule every single day, in a flurry of activity and interviews with people who are giving him counsel and advice, folks who are sharing their stories about policy and their experiences as successful governors and opinion leaders and captains of industry.

So he's very busy doing that. In the meantime, just today, he sat down in an-off-the-record briefing with the heads, the executives and the anchors - many of the anchors from the three major networks and CNN and Fox News included. So it's been - he's open to the press, and he's made himself available. But at the same time, he's very busy forming his cabinet and his senior staff.

CORNISH: Now, I want to raise an issue that's been discussed over the last couple of days, which is the president elect's business interests around the world and whether they bring potential conflicts of interest.

He has said that he'll have his children run his businesses. Many are saying that's not enough. You've had The Wall Street Journal calling him to liquidate those business interest and put them in a blind trust. Would he consider any of those actions?

CONWAY: Everything is being considered and discussed with the proper legal counsel and other advisers who are expert in these fields, and he will do the right thing. He will comply with the law.

CORNISH: Would he sign any formal pledge saying that he wouldn't further business interests while serving in the White House?

CONWAY: I don't think he's going to sign a pledge about that. But at the same time, I think some of those critics are - also just simply can't get over the fact that he won the election, but - firstly. But secondly, he will do what he is told is the right thing to do in complying with the law.

It's a very unusual situation to have a president-elect that is such a successful businessman that has so many holdings. But as you know and as your listeners know, his adult children are already very involved in the success and the execution at the highest levels of his business holdings, and that will continue.

CORNISH: They're also very much part and parcel of his campaign. People noted Ivanka Trump being photographed meeting with the Japanese prime minister. Can not the same concerns be leveled at them as well?

CONWAY: No, they can't. Those concerns cannot be leveled. They're going to support their father as president of the United States the way they've always supported his presidential candidacy. They'll continue to be supportive. At the same time, they'll continue to be wildly successful in the business world.

CORNISH: One other thing we want to try and clarify for the record - Jason Miller of your team says the president-elect has not advocated for a registry to track people based on their religion. People have raised this with the issue of the Muslim community. Can you clarify? How would this registry work, and what's your response to people who fear it, especially those in the Muslim community?

CONWAY: Well, Donald Trump has addressed this many times. I don't think the press really wanted to cover it fairly and completely while he was running. He's addressed many times that his main concern is making sure that we have a system in place that we completely lack now, which is, those countries that tend to train and export and harbor terrorists where we do not have proper vetting are places where we're going to need to have better vetting. And he's made that very clear.

So it is not a blanket situation. He's made it very narrowly prescribed to countries that fit that particular description. And that will that will be what he works on as presidents. It's how - it's one of the things that people knew about him when they were voting for him.

CORNISH: Finally Kellyanne Conway, I heard you speaking with Fox News, saying that, you know, Republicans are said to be in control of the White House. They have control of Congress, most state governments. And you said that's not coincidental; that's a mandate. Given that Trump lost the popular vote by more than a million and a half votes, does that undercut that mandate you're talking about?

CONWAY: Not at all. He wasn't he wasn't vying for the popular vote. He was vying for the Electoral College, as was Hillary Clinton. The only difference is he got over 300 electoral votes, and she did not. So...


CORNISH: But it means you've got to reach out to a great many voters who didn't approve of him, correct?

CONWAY: But he's already said he would. I think the media are trying to get in the way of that. He already said two weeks ago when he won the election that he would be the president of all Americans, even those who do not support him. I heard him repeat that commitment just today, in fact, in the company of some.

And so that's who he is. That's what he's going to do as president. But what you're saying is - the mandate comes in - you know, Representative Tim Ryan, who's challenging Nancy Pelosi for being out of touch and not the right head of his party - he's challenging her, and he just said within the last hour or so that the, quote, "Democratic Party is not even a national party at this point." And the reason he says that is because they've lost so many governorships, the state legislatures and the House and the Senate and now the presidency.

There are four states left in this country that have a Democratic governor and all the Democratic officeholders in the democratically controlled state legislature. That is just - that's anemic, and that's a party in decline. That's a party that's just out of touch with who the electorate is and who Americans are. Donald Trump, on the other hand - he understood America. He animated America, and now he'll be the president of all Americans.

CORNISH: That's Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to the Donald Trump transition team. Thank you for speaking with us.

CONWAY: Thank you. Take care.

[POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: During this conversation, Kellyanne Conway says this year’s election results mean just four states will have both Democratic governors and Democratic-controlled legislatures. In fact, there are six such states: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Oregon and Washington.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.