Trump to hand over businesses to sons
President-elect Donald Trump is handing control of his business empire to his two adults sons and placing his assets into a trust in order to address conflict-of-interest concerns, he said Wednesday.
“These are just some of the many documents I have signed turning over complete and total control to my sons,” Trump said at a news conference at Trump Tower in New York, standing beside a stack of manila envelopes piled on a table.
Ethics experts had urged Trump to sell of his assets and place the proceeds into a blind trust, calling it the only way to remove any possible conflicts between his business empire and his presidency.
But Trump said he would not be selling the company, instead making a number of smaller changes designed to tightly limit his involvement in its operations.
“They are not going to discuss [the business] with me,” Trump said of sons Donald Jr. and Eric, “Again, I don’t have to do this. They’re not going to discuss it with me.”
The president-elect even revived his reality show catchphrase, joking at the end of the news conference that if his sons do a bad job, “I’ll say ‘you’re fired.’ ”
Trump attorney Sheri Dillon told reporters the company will not make new foreign deals and will appoint an ethics adviser who will be required to sign off on new domestic business agreements.
The arrangement falls short of what Trump promised just last month.
“No new deals will be done during my term(s) in office,” he tweeted on Dec. 12.
Presidency. Two of my children, Don and Eric, plus executives, will manage them. No new deals will be done during my term(s) in office.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2016
Trump had called Wednesday’s press conference to detail how he would wall off the White House from his business empire, which had been an unresolved issue since his election victory on Nov. 8.
Dillon, a tax attorney at the law firm Morgan Lewis, delivered a lengthy statement on how the Trump Organization will be structured going forward.
All of Trump’s assets, including his cash holdings and real estate properties, will be placed into a trust for the entirety of his presidency.
She said the Trump Organization is also hiring a chief compliance officer to ensure the business is “operating at the highest levels of integrity.”
In addition, Dillon said the incoming president would donate all profits from foreign-government payments to his hotels to the U.S. Treasury.
Dillon said Trump has agreed to limit the information he receives about his assets to total profit and loss statements only.
But the agreement does not constitute a “blind” trust, over which neither Trump nor his family members would have control. Watchdogs say that is the only way for Trump to truly separate himself from his business interests.
“President-elect Donald Trump has failed his ethics test,” said Robert Weissman, president of the left-leaning group Public Citizen. “There is only one way to avoid the conflicts of interest that will engulf his presidency and America: He must sell the family business.”
Both Trump and Dillon framed the moves as purely voluntary, arguing that federal ethics laws do not apply to the president.
Trump claimed he turned down a $2 billion deal from a Dubai-based businessman just this weekend.
“I didn’t have to turn it down,” he said at the news conference, his first since July. “Because as you know, I have no conflict situation because I’m president.”
Both Trump and Dillon also said the steps recommend by government-ethics advocates were impossible for Trump to make.
Dillon said selling off Trump’s business holdings would “exacerbate” conflict of interest concerns by keeping the trust actively involved in the sales process.
“President-elect Trump cannot be expected to destroy the company he built,” she added.
She said any buyer of Trump’s assets would have to finance their purchase with “massive third-party debt,” which could pose additional conflicts.
The loans would be “sourced with multiple lenders whose motives and willingness to participate would be questioned and undoubtedly investigated,” Dillon said.
She also rejected the notion that Trump could be in violation of the Constitution’s “Emoluments Clause,” which bars federal officials from taking payments from foreign governments.
The clause says “no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
Dillon argued the provision does not apply to business transactions related to Trump’s empire, such as hotel room payments.
“Paying for a hotel room is not a gift or a present, and has nothing to do with an office,” she said. “It is not an emolument. The Constitution does not require President-elect Trump to do anything here.”
The announcement was a long time coming for Trump, who has faced constant scrutiny about his business ties since the early days of his campaign.
Trump’s team initially called a press conference for last month to explain to the public how he planned to resolve possible conflicts of interest related to his real-estate empire, but that news conference was abruptly called off.
Wednesday’s question-and-answer session was dominated by Trump’s war with the media over allegations the Russian government has compromising information about him, rather than the plan for his businesses.
– This story was updated at 2:24 p.m.