Trump Will Leave Business, But Won’t Sell
CNN Money — President-elect Donald Trump says he will transfer his business holdings to a trust run by his sons, and he won’t sell his stake — stopping far short of what ethics lawyers say would eliminate conflicts of interest.
In a press conference at Trump Tower, the incoming president appeared next to stacks of manila folders and insisted that he will isolate himself from his complex worldwide empire of real estate, golf clubs, hotels and licensing deals.
But his plan was immediately panned by government watchdog organizations and ethics advisers to previous presidents of both parties.
Sheri Dillon, a lawyer for Trump, told reporters that Trump’s business and financial assets will be placed in the trust before he is inaugurated Jan. 20.
But she said Trump will still receive reports on the overall profit of the Trump Organization. And the organization will still enter into deals in the United States, provided they are cleared by an in-house ethics adviser.
Trump will resign his leadership of the company and transfer control to his two adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric, and a Trump Organization executive, she said. Dillon said that Trump will not discuss the business with them.
Outside ethics lawyers have repeatedly urged Trump to go much further by liquidating his holdings and handing the proceeds over to an independent trustee who controls them without his knowledge, a structure known as a blind trust.
Maintaining an ownership stake in his properties leaves open the possibility that Trump’s personal profit motive could influence his decisions as president, they have stressed.
“Tragically, the Trump plan to deal with his business conflicts announced today falls short in every respect,” said Norm Eisen, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution who led ethics initiatives in President Obama’s first term.
“Mr. Trump’s ill-advised course will precipitate scandal and corruption. I and many others will respond strongly in defense of ethics and our Constitution.”
Larry Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit government watchdog group, said after the press conference, said simply: “This is not a blind trust.”
Even if the sons are in control, “everybody is still aware that those decisions that help the business help his bottom line,” he said. “Turning the running of the business over to the children doesn’t help.”
Dillon told reporters that establishing a blind trust would be too complicated, and that no independent trustee is capable of running the Trump Organization.
“President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” she said. “This plan offers a suitable alternative to address the concerns of the American people.”
Dillon said the Trump Organization will not enter new deals in foreign countries while Trump is president. Any domestic deals that could raise conflict concerns will need the written approval of a newly appointed ethics officer, she said.
Dillon also said Trump will donate to the U.S. Treasury any profits from foreign government payments to his hotels.
But she dismissed concerns that Trump, by accepting hotel business from foreign governments, will be violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, as outside ethics experts have said.
“No one would have thought when the Constitution was written that paying your hotel bill was an Emolument,” she said.
Of the donations to the Treasury, she said, “This way it is the American people who will profit.”
While Trump will still receive profit-and-loss reports on the company as a whole, Dillon said, he will not see an accounting for individual businesses within the Trump Organization.
The Trump Organization will also add a chief compliance officer to its leadership ranks.
In the weeks since his election, the Trump Organization terminated all unfinished deals, and Ivanka Trump, who is expected to move to Washington and play a role in his presidency, will relinquish her roles at the Trump Organization, Dillon said.