U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said on Wednesday he is separating himself from his global business empire by transferring his assets into a trust and putting his two oldest sons in charge, an arrangement that watchdogs said was inadequate to prevent potential conflicts of interest in office.
At a news conference, Trump said he would resign from all positions overseeing hotels, golf courses and hundreds of other businesses to help ensure that he will not consciously take actions as president that would benefit him personally.
Trump, a Republican, is under pressure to distance himself from his businesses before he moves into the White House on Jan. 20. Trump says that unlike other government officials, he is not required to steer clear of conflicts of interest.
“I could actually run my business and run government at the same time. I don’t like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to,” Trump said.
Ethics experts said the arrangement did not go far enough.
“Mr. Trump’s ill-advised course will precipitate scandal and corruption,” said Norm Eisen, a former White House ethics adviser under Democratic President Barack Obama.
Trump appears to be still involved with his business while preparing to take office, saying he had turned down a $2 billion development deal in Dubai he had been offered over the weekend.
“I didn’t have to turn it down because as you know I have a no-conflict situation because I’m president,” he said.
“DAMAC can confirm that the discussions took place as stated in the media briefing but the proposals were declined ..,” a spokesman for DAMAC, the company involved, told Reuters by email.
Sheri Dillon, a lawyer for Trump, said profits generated at Trump’s hotels by foreign governments will be donated to the U.S. Treasury.
The Trump Organization will not enter into any new overseas deals while Trump is president and will only undertake domestic projects after a company ethics adviser has approved them, said Dillon, a lawyer at Morgan Lewis who focuses on tax and ethics.
Trump will only know of those deals if he hears about them through the news media, Dillon said.
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, is to have no further involvement with management authority in the group, she said. Trump has appointed her husband, Jared Kushner, to a senior advisory role in the White House.
Since Trump sold all his stocks last year, the Trump trust will hold only business assets and liquid assets such as cash, Dillon said.
Many other ethics experts, including the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, have urged Trump to completely divest or set up a blind trust for his assets. Dillon said that was not a realistic possibility and would hurt him financially.
In a blind trust, the owner does now know what the holdings are or how their assets are managed. Trump’s oldest sons will be running his business, so the arrangement does not meet that standard.
Trump was aided in setting up the trust by lawyer Fred Fielding, a former White House counsel to Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Remaining debt will stay in place and will be dealt with during the ordinary course of business, Dillon said.
— By Steve Holland, Andy Sullivan and Emily Stephenson