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January 11, 2017

Donald Trump's plan to remove himself from his businesses without divesting ownership doesn't even come close to solving the problem of potential conflicts of interest, the director of the Office of Government Ethics said Wednesday.

"We can't risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for profit," Walter Shaub said at the Brookings Institute. "That's why I was glad in November when the president-elect tweeted that he wanted to, as he put it, 'in no way have a conflict of interest' with his businesses. Unfortunately, his current plan cannot achieve that goal." The Office of Government Ethics is independent and nonpartisan, and works with executive branch officials to prevent conflicts of interest. Last week, the office sent Democrats in the Senate a letter advising them that they were still waiting for many of Trump's Cabinet nominees to send over their proper ethics packages.

Shaub said one major problem with Trump's "wholly inadequate" plan is that he will have his sons, Eric and Don Jr., run the Trump Organization, and that will involve communications that wouldn't take place in a blind trust. Sheri Dillon, a lawyer for Trump, said on Wednesday a blind trust was impossible to enter into because "you cannot have a totally blind trust with operating businesses." If they were to sell off the business or divest, she added, it would cost the Trumps millions of dollars, and that just wasn't fair. Shaub was unmoved. "It's important to understand that the president is now entering the world of public service," he said. "He's going to be asking his own appointees to make sacrifices. He's going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world. So, no, I don't think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the president of the United States of America."

You can watch Shaub's short address on government ethics and why Trump should change course below. Catherine Garcia

5:26 p.m. ET
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Summer weather has arrived, and people are evidently planning to make the most of it over the upcoming long weekend.

A huge number of Americans are planning to hit the road over Memorial Day weekend, AAA estimated on Friday. Around 42 million people are expected to take some kind of trip, a 5 percent increase from last year's holiday weekend and the highest estimate in more than a decade.

"A strong economy and growing consumer confidence are giving Americans all the motivation they need to kick off what we expect to be a busy summer travel season with a Memorial Day getaway," said Bill Sutherland, senior vice president at AAA.

About 37 million will be driving to their destination, despite gas prices surging to their highest level in the last four years, reports Reuters. Airfare prices are also slightly down, likely a factor for many of the three million who will be flying for Memorial Day weekend. AAA expects that air travel will see an even bigger jump this year, with a 6.8 percent increase compared to last Memorial Day. Summer Meza

4:19 p.m. ET
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First lady Melania Trump hasn't been seen in public in 15 days, The Washington Post reported Friday, but President Trump says his wife's White House life is business as usual.

Reporters asked Trump about the first lady's absence on Friday, and the president pointed at a White House window, responding that "she's doing great. She's looking at us right there." But Melania was nowhere to be seen.

Melania's unusually long disappearance from public life follows a five-night stay in the hospital for a kidney operation on May 14. She was last seen on May 10. The first lady has had "several internal staff meetings in the past week around a variety of topics, including her initiatives," her spokesperson told the Post, but her office didn't say when Melania would next venture into the public eye.

The first lady hasn't attended several other recent events where she would ordinarily be expected, but according to the president, she's just "doing great" in private, watching her husband interact with reporters from on high in the White House. Summer Meza

2:53 p.m. ET
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White supremacy, white nationalism, white separatism — with all the neo-Nazis and alt-right personalities in the news these days, it can be hard to keep the terms straight. Facebook, though, has determined that two of the three are just fine in its book, Motherboard reports.

The social media giant has faced recent outcry regarding its censorship of hate speech — or lack thereof. Earlier this year, ProPublica revealed that Facebook trains its censors to recognize "white men" as a protected category, although "black children" are not.

In new slides obtained by Motherboard and published Friday, Facebook has apparently gone as far as to determine that it is a-okay to say "the U.S. should be a white-only nation," but if you say "I am a white supremacist," you have crossed a line.

Keep trying. Jeva Lange

2:46 p.m. ET
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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio isn't backing down from his open disdain for the media outlets that cover him.

City Hall released a trove of more than 4,000 pages of de Blasio's emails on Thursday, and several addressed his complicated relationship with the local press.

The mayor called local papers like the New York Daily News and the New York Post "sad" and "pitiful," the Daily News reported. He accused The New York Times of bias against him, calling one article about his plan to help boost underperforming schools "disgusting" for its lack of balance. He emailed aides about "the sad state of media" over stories that focused on his politics rather than "real problems" affecting New Yorkers, reports Politico.

In an interview with WNYC on Friday, de Blasio stood by his comment calling the Post a "right-wing rag." No, said de Blasio, "I will not shed a tear if that newspaper is no longer here." He called for a "better civil discourse," saying that the Post is "not like everyone else," in that the publication is "harmful" to the city.

The mayor would prefer the discourse seen on the other side of the pond, he said. "I'm a big fan of alternative media and subscription-based media, like The Guardian," he told WNYC, describing the U.K. publication as less dependent on clicks for revenue.

De Blasio added that he never would have badmouthed the press via email if he had known the emails would one day become public. Summer Meza

2:36 p.m. ET
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Wealthy Chinese businesspeople are apparently gaining access to President Trump by paying middlemen to get them into political fundraisers, as a way of dodging U.S. election law, The Washington Post reports. It is illegal for anyone but U.S. citizens to contribute to a political campaign, such as an upcoming official Trump fundraiser in Dallas on May 31, although at least three Chinese companies are offering VIP trips to the events that cost thousands of dollars and promise a handshake and photo with the president.

"[T]he solicitations, if offering a legitimate service, raise questions about whether attendees are indirectly paying for their tickets through a U.S. donor, which would be illegal," writes the Post, which adds that foreigners may attend fundraisers only if "they do not pay their own entry."

One Republican Party official confirmed that a group of Chinese citizens attended a similar Trump fundraiser last December through one such company in the capacity "as guests of a U.S. citizen donor." Sun Changchun, the "the head of a Chinese cultural exchange company" who allegedly arranged that New York trip and is apparently working on the Dallas one, said he gives the ticket proceeds to the RNC, and that the RNC would donate them to charity.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation includes tracking if any foreign money flowed into the presidential campaigns. "What a regulator or prosecutor would be interested in is whether this is essentially the foreign national making a donation through a U.S. person," explained Matthew Sanderson, who served as a campaign finance lawyer for the McCain-Palin 2008 campaign. Read more about the sketchy scheme at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

1:50 p.m. ET
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President Trump delivered a commencement address at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Friday. He congratulated the graduates on their accomplishments, and congratulated himself on a job well done as commander in chief, touting renewed respect for the military thanks to his administration's policies.

"We are respected again, I can tell you that," said Trump, hailing the Navy's ability to vanquish all enemies. "In recent years and even decades, too many people have forgotten that truth," Trump said. "In recent years, the problem grew worse. A growing number used their platforms to ... weaken America's pride." But Trump said America has once again decided to speak the truth of our military's strength: "In case you have not noticed, we have become a lot stronger lately. A lot."

Amid full-throated patriotism, Trump squeezed in a few asides about his effort to launch "the great rebuilding" of the military. He applauded his push for the "largest-ever" military budget, which he said would lead to "the strongest military that we have ever had. And when did we need it more than now?" He also patted himself on the back for giving troops pay raises "for the first time in over 10 years," even though the military receives pay raises every year. "I fought for you," said Trump of the raises. "That was the hardest one to get. But you never had a chance of losing. I represented you well. I represented you well."

"The best way to prevent war is to be fully prepared for war," said Trump, hoping that the grads would never have to use their "beautiful, new, powerful equipment." The president promised to shake the hands of every Naval Academy graduate following his speech. "America is back," he said.

Read the full transcript of his commencement address at The Atlantic. Summer Meza

1:41 p.m. ET

Lawmakers are forbidden from using their congressional staff for anything other than official political duties, which means running personal errands is definitely a no-no. That apparently didn't stop Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) and his wife, Flanna, whose former staffers told Politico they had to do everything from unload groceries to fetch Garrett's daughters from Scottsdale, a three-hour drive away.

The congressional staffers were even asked to take care of the Garretts' dog Sophie, a Jack Russell-Pomeranian mix that IJR says "comes to the D.C. office every other day."

Staffers were expected to watch the dog during office hours, and one aide did so over a weekend. Several aides said the couple would sometimes seem to forget the dog was in the office. When that happened, at the end of the day, aides were responsible for transporting it back to Garrett's Washington apartment.

One source said the dog occasionally defecated on the floor and aides had to clean up the mess. [Politico]

The Garretts denied their ex-staffers' claims, telling Politico: "It is easy to spread untruths and even easier to exaggerate and imply wrongdoing when none exists." Jeva Lange

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