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POGO – Trump’s Trademarks Pose Ethics Challenge for the Executive Branch

POGO – “Last week, President Trump’s campaign committee filed a legal complaint against a textile manufacturer in South Carolina for applying to trademark the use of “Make America Great Again” on bath towels, bed blankets, and pillow cases. The complaint was brought before a panel called the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (Trademark Board), a panel within the Commerce Department’s Patent and Trademark Office in the executive branch. Unlike judges in judicial branch courts, Trademark Board judges ultimately work for Trump. Can they neutrally preside over a case involving him? Against the recommendation of the government’s top ethics official, President Trump has rebuffed calls to divest himself of his business interests and place the assets in a blind trust, which means the federal government will continually be placed in situations where its decisions will impact Trump’s continued ownership interests and his bottom line. While he is not required by law to divest, as the late Antonin Scalia wrote in 1974 for the Office of Legal Counsel, the President’s “failure to observe” conflict of interest standards applicable to every other federal employee “will furnish a simple basis for damaging criticism, whether or not they technically apply” to the President. Because Trump retains a financial interest directly in his companies and at the same time runs the federal government, which affects his companies’ revenues and costs, the conflicts of interest posed are potentially vast. The relatively unexplored conflicts facing the Trademark Board offer a window into the broader conundrum faced by the federal government because of Trump’s decision not to divest. Government integrity is at stake, namely whether the executive can maintain the appearance of impartiality in matters involving Trump and his family members’ business interests. The case filed last week is Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. v. Springs Global US, Inc., first reported by the trade publication World Intellectual Property Review. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. is a corporation registered in the state of Virginia that is the principal campaign committee for Trump. Trump had previously trademarked the use of “Make America Great Again” for a number of political campaign uses, clothing, athletic bags, dog apparel, and other items…”

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