In the midst of multiple fundraising attempts that raised questions about whether the Trump family is selling the promise of personal access to the highest bidder, Eric Trump says he will stop directly raising money for his personal charity.
“As unfortunate as it is, I understand the quagmire,” Trump told the New York Times.
“It’s an extremely sad day when doing the right thing isn’t the right thing,” Trump told the Associated Press in a separate interview.
The Eric Trump Foundation raises money for childhood cancer research and treatment. According to its website, it has “donated and pledged nearly $30 million” to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Trump’s decision follows two separate fundraising attempts that were scuttled after they became public.
Trump’s foundation recently offered donors a chance to have coffee with his sister Ivanka Trump, who is expected to play a formal or informal role in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration. The foundation eventually canceled that auction.
But days later, a separate group, the Opening Day Foundation, offered donors a chance to go hunting or fishing with Eric and Donald Trump Jr. The cost: contributions of $500,000 or $1 million. The Trump transition team distanced itself from these offers. Spokeswoman Hope Hicks said Trump’s sons “are not involved in any capacity,” despite the fact they are both listed as directors in the nonprofit group’s filings.
The fundraising attempts raised ethical questions because they appeared to offer direct access to members of the president-elect’s inner circle in exchange for donations.
Trump regularly criticized the Clinton Foundation for offering that sort of quid pro quo access to people seeking to influence Hillary Clinton while she ran the State Department. “It’s impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins,” Trump said in August. “It is now abundantly clear that the Clintons set up a business to profit from public office. They sold access and specific actions by and to them for money.”
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway seemed to share Eric Trump’s frustration with the wave of ethical criticism the fundraising has generated. “The idea that these folks are trying to help people in need and those people are going to suffer now because folks are pointing out what they think to be improprieties, I didn’t say I necessarily agree,” Conway told CNN Thursday morning. “I just think that they will always do the right thing. I know them well.”
While Eric Trump’s decision may remove one ethical “quagmire,” as he put it, another remains: the question of who will run the Trump Organization and how Donald Trump will, or won’t, separate himself from his personal businesses while serving as president.
Trump promised to hold a news conference on Dec. 15 to detail his promise to turn over control of his businesses to his children. But the news conference has been delayed, and the Trump transition has not provided any details about what sort of arrangement the president-elect will seek to address conflict-of-interest questions.
The U.S. Office of Government Ethics is recommending that Trump completely divest himself from his companies.
“Transferring operational control of a company to one’s children would not constitute the establishment of a qualified blind trust, nor would it eliminate conflicts of interest,” the office’s director wrote in a letter to the president-elect.