Posted: 12:27 pm Wednesday, January 11th, 2017
By Jamie Dupree
President-Elect Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that he will give control of his business empire to two of his adult sons, and put other assets in a trust, in a bid to ward off criticism about possible conflicts of interest when he enters the Oval Office as President later this month.
In his first formal news conference since July, Mr. Trump said current laws don’t require him to make any changes at all in his business organization, but that he will do it to ensure against ethics questions.
Trump told reporters that he had just rejected a $2 billion deal in Dubai in recent days.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Dubai's DAMAC Properties confirms to AP it offered $2B in deals to Trump Org, which rejected them
— Lisa Lerer (@llerer) January 11, 2017
“I didn’t have to turn it down, because as you know, I have a no-conflict situation because I am President,” Mr. Trump said.
On that point, Mr. Trump is correct, as the Congress specifically exempted the President and Vice President from some of those conflict of interest restrictions.
“I could actually run my business and run government at the same time,” Mr. Trump said.
“I don’t like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted,” the President-Elect added.
Under the plan set out today, sons Donald Jr. and Eric will run the Trump Organization, along with a top official of that company; the Trump Organization would not be allowed to do any new deals overseas, while domestic actions would need an ethics review.
Trump: If my sons do a bad job running my companies, I will say "you're fired" https://t.co/1HOQEcBmBQ
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) January 11, 2017
As for Trump’s daughter Ivanka, she said on Wednesday that she would be taking a leave of absence from the Trump Organization as well.
I will be taking a leave of absence from my businesses and relocating to DC. See what I'll be doing here: https://t.co/qs29RBinrR
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) January 11, 2017
At Mr. Trump’s news conference, Trump lawyer Shari Dillon laid out the basics of the changes, saying the plan is for the President-Elect to give up control of the Trump Organization by Inauguration Day, and then isolate himself from the business operations.
The lawyer told reporters that the company will do no new foreign deals while Mr. Trump is in office – but can pursue domestic ones, and says that the Trump Organization will appoint an ethics adviser to its management team who must approve deals that could raise any concerns about conflicts.
Asked why Mr. Trump was not divesting his assets, Dillon said “President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company that he built,” as she rejected what she described as a “fire sale.”
One other plan announced by Trump’s lawyers is that when it comes to foreign governments spending money on his hotels – that money will be donated by Trump hotels to the U.S. Treasury.
As one might expect, the Trump move did not pass muster with some ethics groups in Washington.
“The American public must now demand complete transparency of the Trump Organization and President-elect Trump’s finances,” said the group Common Cause.
“By refusing to divest, Trump is breaking decades of precedent, just as he did with his refusal to release his tax returns,” said Noah Bookbinder, the head of the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
“Today was his first test as president. He failed,” Bookbinder said in a statement.
Democrats in Congress swiftly mocked Trump’s announcement as well.
“Trump is not truly divesting,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), who said “full divestment would be selling his businesses and putting the proceeds in a blind trust.”
President-elect Trump was a walking, talking, tweeting conflict of interest yesterday and he remains one today. -TB
— Sen. Tammy Baldwin (@SenatorBaldwin) January 11, 2017
Trump’s refusal to divest or even completely disclose his assets means every action will be tainted w/ suspicion. #TrumpPressConference
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) January 11, 2017
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) January 11, 2017
No amnt of paperwork can show that having your sons take care of your business is absolving yourself of its interests. #TrumpPressConference
— Congressmember Bass (@RepKarenBass) January 11, 2017
.@realDonaldTrump's proposal to hand over his biz to his sons does nothing to address the vast potential for conflicts of interest.
— Nita Lowey (@NitaLowey) January 11, 2017
— Rep. Ruben J. Kihuen (@RepKihuen) January 11, 2017
Other groups though had praise for the Trump move.
“While there is no off-the-shelf ethics plan for a matter as complex and unprecedented as this, Mr. Trump seems to be on the right track,” said Tom Fitton, the head of the watchdog group Judicial Watch.