WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said yesterday he would maintain ownership of his global business empire but hand off control to his two oldest sons while president, an arrangement that watchdogs said would not prevent conflicts of interest in the White House. Trump told a news conference he would resign from all positions overseeing his hotels, golf courses and hundreds of other businesses and move his assets into a trust to help ensure that he will not consciously take actions as president that would benefit him personally.
Trump, a Republican, is under pressure to distance himself from his businesses before he moves into the White House on Jan. 20. Unlike other U.S. government officials, the president is not required by law to steer clear of conflicts of interest.
“I could actually run my business and run government at the same time. I don’t like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to,” Trump said. Ethics experts said the arrangement did not go far enough. “Mr. Trump’s ill-advised course will precipitate scandal and corruption,” said Norman Eisen, a former White House ethics adviser under Democratic President Barack Obama. Walter Shaub, director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, said yesterday in a speech at a Washington think tank that his office recommends Trump “divest his conflicting assets” to avoid conflicts.
Trump appears to be still involved with his business while preparing to take office, saying he had turned down a $2 billion development deal in Dubai he had been offered over the weekend. The company that made the proposal, DAMAC, confirmed the discussions had taken place.
The Trump Organization will not enter into any new overseas deals while Trump is president and will only undertake domestic projects after a company ethics adviser has approved them, said Trump adviser Sheri Dillon. Details of how the ethics adviser would operate, as well as several other aspects of the arrangements, were not immediately clear.
Trump will only know of those deals if he hears about them through the news media, said Dillon, a lawyer at Morgan Lewis who focuses on tax and ethics.
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, will have no further involvement in managing the organization or her own clothing brand. Ivanka Trump said on her Facebook page that she would take time off to settle her family into their new home in Washington. The president-elect has named her husband, Jared Kushner, to a senior advisory role in the White House.
Since Trump sold all his stocks last year, the Trump trust will hold only business assets and liquid assets such as cash, Dillon said.
A financial disclosure document he filed in May also showed loans from lenders such as Deutsche Bank and Ladder Capital. Trump will not have to file a new disclosure form until 2018.
Many other ethics experts, including the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, have urged Trump to completely divest or set up a blind trust for his assets. In a blind trust, the owner does now know what the holdings are or how the assets are managed. Trump’s oldest sons, Eric and Donald Jr., will be running his business, so the arrangement does not meet that standard.
Dillon said that was not a realistic possibility for a family-owned company and any sudden divestment would hurt Trump financially. Unlike liquid assets like stocks and investment funds, much of Trump’s wealth comes from office towers and other real estate that cannot be sold easily, as well as licensing deals that could be difficult to unwind.
Stripped of the Trump name, many of these assets would lose much of their value, Dillon said.
“President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” she said.
Dillon dismissed concerns that Trump could violate an anti-bribery provision in the U.S. Constitution, known as the Emoluments Clause. That applies to gifts, but not business transactions like renting a hotel room, she said.
Nevertheless, profits generated at Trump’s hotels by foreign governments will be donated to the U.S. Treasury, she said.