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Critics bash Trump children's presence at tech meeting
Three of Donald Trump's adult children attended a Wednesday meeting the president-elect convened with top Silicon Valley executives, prompting backlash from critics with questions about conflicts of interests.
The meeting was meant as an olive branch to an industry that largely backed Hillary Clinton in the presidential election and which has few policy goals in common with the incoming administration.
It was held the same week the president-elect said his two adult sons, Eric and Donald Jr., would take over his business interests when he takes office in January.
But details of his plans to distance himself from his business empire remain scant after he canceled a Thursday news conference where he was scheduled to divulge specifics.
Leaving business operations to his sons is a far cry from the complete divestiture that many believe is the only way to prevent conflicts of interests in a Trump administration.
Ethics experts say if his plan is to be taken seriously, the president-elect needs to create space between his children and his transition team.
"You would think that if he is planning to come out with a solution of turning everything over to his children, that he would separate his children immediately from the transition. But he's not even doing that, so it's hard to see how this fits into any plan he may have for trying to avoid conflicts of interests," said Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center.
Noble does not believe the plan to turn over the company to his adult sons will work, and he said their involvement in the transition further damages the arrangement's credibility.
"President-elect Trump and his family continue to blur the line between public service and Trump business operations," added Scott Amey of the Project on Government Oversight.
"If Trump is serious about only working for the American public, it should have started weeks ago and his children should have stayed in the boardroom."
The transition team did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday night. In an appearance on Fox News, top aide Kellyanne Conway said the criticism is unfair.
"I think it is really unfair to them because they are not spokespeople," she said. "I think it's incredibly irresponsible to say that [Trump's children] can't be in a meeting with tech giants."
In addition to his two elder sons, Trump's elder daughter, Ivanka, also attended the meeting. Her husband, Jared Kushner, an adviser to the president-elect and a tech investor in his own right, was also present.
The summit included executives from Apple, Google, Amazon, Intel, Microsoft, Tesla and Facebook, and topics raised in the meeting ranged from lowering taxes to reducing bureaucracy and providing greater accountability in government procurement processes.
On Monday, the president-elect announced on Twitter that his adult sons would be taking over the business while he's in office.
"Even though I am not mandated by law to do so, I will be leaving my busineses [sic] before January 20th so that I can focus full time on the ... Presidency," Trump wrote. "Two of my children, Don and Eric, plus executives, will manage them. No new deals will be done during my term(s) in office."
Eric Walker, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, blasted the family arrangement in a statement issued just hours after the Wednesday tech meeting, calling it "nakedly and obviously corrupt."
After Politico reported this week that Donald Trump Jr. was involved in the interview process to choose a secretary of Interior, a transition spokesman defended the move by saying it had been open about his involvement.
"The transition team has been very transparent and the fact that Donald Trump Jr. is on the transition team - he's the one helping us form this government and put things together, we've announced that right from the beginning," Jason Miller said.
"It only makes sense that a transition team member was active in that process."
But Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard University, pointed out that mixing politics and business comes with inherent issues.
"Next time one of those 'children' meets or talks with a Silicon Valley leader about a matter of interest to Trump's business empire, that leader will certainly know that he or she is dealing with a member of the President's inner circle of government power," Tribe said.
Richard Painter, the chief ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, sees some wiggle room for the Trump children giving advice informally to their father but said he would be alarmed if the current trend continues once Trump is sworn in.
"They can give him advice informally, but ... normally a president does not bring his adult children to official meetings," Painter said. "Maybe doing that now a little bit, but I think that would stop once he becomes president."
Noble said he does not see how in this instance Trump's children, even though they are business executives, have anything to add to a meeting of top Silicon Valley executives.
"I don't think anyone at that meeting considers them as equals," he said.