[OPINION: The views expressed by Investopedia columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website]

The fine line between business and politics will be put to a stern test when President-elect Donald Trump takes office on January 20, 2017. As far back as the day Trump announced his bid for the presidency, pundits questioned his ability to run his billion-dollar empire as well as the biggest economy and arguably the most important country to global stability at the same time. On November 30, Trump began the task of separating business and politics... on Twitter.

In his Nov. 22 sit-down interview with the New York Times, Trump told reporters that a sitting President “can’t have a conflict of interest.” However, ethics experts have said unless he relinquishes full ownership of the Trump Organization, conflicts remain. “He will continue to know what his business interests are and to benefit from them whether or not he is involved in the day-to-day management, so the conflicts remain unchanged,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement.  

“Unless his solution is to sell the business outside the family and put the proceeds in a blind trust, he’s not really doing anything to solve the problem.”

The Trump Organization is complicated. It has business ventures of some degree in over 20 countries that range from hotels and residential buildings to licensing agreements and golf courses. Not to mention investments he has in the pipeline. In addition, Trump has substantial outstanding debt to one of Europe's most fragile bank, Deutsche Bank that is currently in the midst of a dispute with the Department of Justice over a pending penalty; something the new President will have some control over. Trump will also face conflicts with his relationship with the IRS. (See also: Trump’s Tax Cut May Cause Huge Bank Writedowns)

Business ties

The Trump Organization has business ventures in the United States' two biggest trading partners, Canada and China; and planned development in the current political hotbed, Cuba. Now President, relationships with these countries, both economic and social will put the spotlight on possible conflicts arising from decisions Trump makes from the White House. (See also: Trump's Economic Policies)

In Canada, the Trump Organization has a licensing agreement with a soon-to-be-completed luxury high-rise rental and condo building in Vancouver. In Toronto, The Trump International Hotel & Tower, which is owned by Talon International Inc. and licensed by the Trump Organization has had its fair amount of controversy of late. Talon International was recently put into receivership and has since been embroiled in a number of lawsuits. Although the financial repercussions for the Trump Organization in Canada are low, Trump's plans to rip up NAFTA, controlling flows into and out of Canada could create potential conflicts for the President-elect. 

Trump's disdain for China is no secret. He has repeatedly called China a currency manipulator, and on Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to accuse China of taxing U.S. imports and militarizing the South China Sea. However, Trump has yet to map out any concrete economic plans with China, its second biggest trading partner and despite the hostility, Trump is going to face potential conflicts of interest when negotiating trade deals with China because of his business interests there. In October, Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger told a Hong Kong newspaper that they plan to open 20 to 30 hotels across major Chinese cities. For foreign investors, it is hard to conduct business in China without dealing with the state at some level. Furthermore, the state owns the majority of land in China, as well as most of the major banks, including Bank of China, that according to the New York Times, the Trump organization has millions of dollars of outstanding loans to. (See also: This Is How Donald Trump Actually Got Rich)

"If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal," Trump tweeted on November 28. However, what a better deal for the Cuban/American people may also be a better deal for the Trump Organization. Trump said in March that he would consider opening a hotel in Cuba, and in July Trump said Cuba would be a good businesses opportunity when the time is right. Now President, Trump will have a large say in the fragile relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. Trump's policy on tourism and business between the two countries will sure to raise questions if the Trump Organization goes ahead with plans to open hotels in Cuba. (Further reading: The Impact Of Ending The US Embargo On Cuba)

Deutsche Bank

Arguably Trump's biggest conflict of interest will come with the Department of Justice and its decision over the pending fine with Deutsche Bank (DB) over miss-selling loans during the financial crisis. Donald Trump's financial disclosure shows he has four outstanding loans with the German lender, two of which are listed as "over $50,000,000." According to NPR, the total value of loans outstanding to Deutsche Bank is $365 million, which are against two Trump buildings plus his golf course at Doral. 

The DOJ's opening bid for the fine was $14 billion, which would cripple the already struggling bank that has a current market cap of just $20.4 billion. If the dispute is not resolved by January 20 when Trump takes office—where he will oversee the Justice Department—it puts him in a position to influence the size of the fine handed to Deutsche Bank, in which he has substantial financial interest. Any lenience under Trump's watch will raise questions that he is cutting a deal to the bank that has lent him billions of dollars throughout his lifetime. (See also: Deutsche Bank's Fine and its Systemic Effects

The relationship between the Trump Organization and Deutsche Bank has grown in significance in recent times with many big U.S. lenders such as Citigroup, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley choosing not to deal with the organization because of ongoing legal and bankruptcy issues. 


Trump has continued to say he has not disclosed his taxes because he is currently under audit by the IRS. The current head of the IRS, John A. Koskinen, ends his term in 2017. However, there have been calls from conservative Republicans to have Koskinen impeached for lying to Congress in the investigation against the IRS for giving extra scrutiny when auditing conservative groups. Should any impeachment proceedings move for Trump could be a position to appoint the next head to the IRS and therefore influencing the pending audit of his company.

The Bottom Line

With Trump's taking office in early 2017 it is going to create an array of conflicts of interest due to the elaborate nature of the Trump Organization. With ties in over twenty countries and his plans to exit from the business lacking substance, his political decisions will be heavily scrutinized. The only bona fide way for Trump to separate himself from business and politics would be for him to sell his entire stake in the Trump Organization, but even then with his family at the helm of the empire, the conflicts look set to remain throughout his presidency. 



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