How will Trump’s plan to deal with businesses work?

How will Trump’s plan to deal with businesses work?
© Getty Images

President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference MORE’s plan to hand over control of the Trump Organization to his sons while he is in the White House leaves a number of outstanding questions about how he’ll avoid conflicts of interest.

Trump plans to keep a financial stake in his company, but will place his assets in a trust and donate to the Treasury profits made at hotels from foreign governments. The Trump Organization will also appoint an ethics adviser to approve new transactions.

Here are several key outstanding questions.

How much will the public learn about the donations to Treasury?


Trump’s plan to deliver to the Treasury profits from any foreign officials staying at his hotels is meant to address concerns that he would be violating a clause in the Constitution banning elected officials from taking gifts and payments from foreign governments.

Any United States citizen can make a gift to the Treasury that will be stored in an account and used for general government spending. But since Treasury keeps details about donors private, it could be up to Trump alone to disclose the amount, timing and origin of his donations.

It’s unclear how profits will be determined and who will be doing the accounting.

“That’s an opaque process,” said Matt Sanderson, a member at Caplin & Drysdale who has served as counsel for several Republican presidential campaigns.

The Trump transition team did not respond to multiple questions from The Hill. A spokeswoman for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, the law firm involved in preparing the plan, declined to comment.

It’s unknown if the Trump Organization will disclose the donations to Treasury, and how frequently those disclosures would be made.

Trump has broken decades of precedent by refusing to release his tax returns, one of the only legally binding documents that would reveal the extent of his wealth, the depth of his debt and which banks and firms own it.

If Trump or doesn’t disclose his donations, it could be impossible to know whether he’s actually donated the money he’s received from foreign governments and diplomats.

Who will fill key ethics positions?

A summary of the plan put together by Trump’s lawyers calls for an ethics adviser who will need to provide written approval “for all actions, deals, and transactions that could potentially raise ethics or conflict-of-interest concerns.”

During Trump’s press conference on Wednesday, Sherri Dillon, a Morgan Lewis attorney involved in creating the plan, said that the ethics adviser would be a “recognized expert” in government ethics.

Who this officer is, and how independent he or she can be, will make a difference in how easy it may be for the officer to raise ethics concerns.

Sanderson said that there could be questions about the ethics adviser’s judgment if he or she is a longtime veteran of the Trump Organization, rather than someone like a former judge or an academic.

He also wanted to know if the officer would have a set tenure or if he or she could be fired at will.

“You’d like some independent decision-making authority,” he said.

The plan also says that the Trump Organization has created a new chief compliance officer position. That person’s responsibility will be to “ensure that the Trump Organization businesses are operating at the highest levels of integrity and are not taking any actions that actually exploit, or even could be perceived as exploiting, the Office of the Presidency.”

Information about the identity of the chief compliance officer was not provided.

When will Trump’s sons take over the family business, and will they stay on the transition team?

Trump announced Wednesday that he’d resign from all official positions within the organization so his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, and Trump executive Allen Weisselberg would take control over the Trump business empire.

Trump won’t sell the company or his stake in it, but said his sons wouldn’t discuss the business with him.

However, neither the president-elect nor Dillon specified when the transfer of control would happen.  

Trump’s sons, along with daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, also serve on the president-elect’s transition team’s executive committee. Neither Trump nor Dillon said when, or even if, the Trump sons would leave the transition.

Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at the watchdog group Public Citizen, said that a firewall between Trump and his adult sons is unrealistic.

“You can’t have a firewall between family,” he said.

Why did Trump back off his no new deals pledge?

Trump tweeted in December that “no new deals will be done” while he is president, but his plan still allows his businesses to do certain deals.

The plan bars the Trump Organization from doing new deals in foreign jurisdictions. It also prevents the business from entering into new transactions with foreign governments, the U.S. government and state and local governments, “other than normal and customary arrangements already undertaken before the President-Elect’s election.”

However, the Trump Organization would still be allowed to participate in new domestic deals if they survive a “rigorous vetting process.”

Trump and his representatives have not provided an explanation as to why his businesses will still be able to do some new domestic deals, and have not described what types of new deals the company may do.