Questions swirl around Trump business announcement – The Hill
President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPetraeus would have to notify probation officer if named secretary of State The power of Mrs. Mitch McConnell’s purse Overnight Energy: EPA stands firm on fuel standards MORE on Wednesday said he would completely leave his business interests as president, but provided no details on how he would separate himself from an empire synonymous with his name.
Trump’s property holdings and business interests in the United States and around the world have raised numerous questions about conflicts of interest, and Trump at times has suggested he did not plan to delink himself from his businesses.The Republican at one point talked about setting up a blind trust for his business interests, but just last week deflected a question about his plans by telling The New York Times that it was “impossible” for a president to have a conflict of interest.
In a series of tweets on Wednesday, however, Trump appeared to shift, saying he would hold a news conference with his children to discuss his plans to leave his businesses.
“I will be holding a major news conference in New York City with my children on December 15 to discuss the fact that I will be leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” he stated.
“While I am not mandated to do this under the law, I feel it is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses. Hence, legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!”
Top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway indicated that Trump’s children will be taking on expanded roles in the business.
“The three adult children, who do already work in the corporation, are expected to continue in those roles and in fact increase their responsibilities in those roles,” she told reporters in Washington.
But the Trump tweets left a host of questions swirling around his plans.
For one, several of Trump’s children hold official positions as part of the presidential transition, and also are apparently sitting in on meetings with Trump and foreign heads of state.
And experts warned that if Trump simply hands off the business to his children, his continued stake in the business, as well as the inherently close relationship he has with his immediate family, continued to pose a raft of questions.
“Putting the kids on the transition executive committee was a huge mistake,” said Amey. “He should be … setting that bright line between what’s taking place in Trump business operations and his effort to get his administration up and running.”
In the past, presidents of the modern era have typically opted to place their assets in a blind trust or similar arrangement, in which an independent entity manages their investments without their knowledge, to eliminate the possibility of a conflict.
Figuring out how to strike a similar arrangement with Trump, who owns or lends his names to buildings bearing his name across the world, has proved a tricky proposition.
In his interview with the New York Times, Trump said that the idea of selling off his assets was “a very hard thing to do,” given that so much of it is in prominent real estate ventures.
Concerns about Trump’s business interests conflicting with his job as president took a surreal turn Wednesday, when the Office of Government Ethics, an independent agency charged with helping executive branch employees avoid conflicts of interests, posted a series of tweets congratulating Trump for agreeing to divest from his business — something Trump has not promised to do.
“Bravo! Only way to resolve these conflicts of interest is to divest. Good call!” read one tweet. “This divestiture does what handing over control could never have done,” read another.
The tweets were widely interpreted as sarcasm, and OGE pointed in one tweet to a 1983 letter it sent affirming its view that while the president is not legally subject to conflict of interest laws, he should conduct himself as if he were.
The fact that Trump has business ventures in other foreign countries is a particularly troublesome area. The Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that no U.S. political officials should receive gifts from foreign governments. If Trump holds his stake in offshore properties, or foreign dignitaries use his hotels in the U.S., as is already the case, it presents a fundamental challenge.
“The problem does not go away if he still owns the company that gets the money,” warned Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics lawyer under President Obama from 2005 to 2007.
In addition, Painter identified a number of other complications posed by Trump’s business once he becomes president. For example, his practice of licensing his name to real estate ventures across the world present obvious conflicts, but also pose a security risk as a number of Trump’s personal assets could present appealing targets to terrorists or others.
Furthermore, Painter warned that any conversations that mixed political talk with business talk could present concerns about a “quid pro quo” arrangement. Trump himself has acknowledged that he may have discussed wind farms that would mar the views of his Scottish golf courses with British politician Nigel Farage. And Trump could also be a likely target for litigation requiring the president to testify in court if he retains a stake in his business.
Trump has one direct challenge already looming just down the street from the White House. A new hotel Trump just opened in downtown Washington carries a lease, provided by the General Services Administration, stipulating that no elected official can be part of the lease or benefit from it. The Trump transition has yet to comment on the fate of this particular project, or provide further detail on Trump’s plans for his business.