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Donald Trump

Trump to be ‘taken completely out’ of running the family businesses, he tweets

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2016, 11:35pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2016, 11:35pm

President-elect Donald Trump said on Wednesday he plans to leave his business “in total” to focus on the White House and will discuss the matter at a news conference December 15 in New York with his children, some of whom are business associates.

“While I am not mandated to do this under the law, I feel it is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses,” Trump said in a series of tweets. “Hence, legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!”

Concerns about potential conflicts of interest in domestic and foreign affairs have already begun to bubble up for the billionaire ahead of his January inauguration. He will be the first president not to have held elected office or a position in the military.

Trump didn’t say he would sell or gift his business to his children, nor did he spell out what structure he would put in place to distance himself from the Trump Organisation. Former White House ethics lawyers have urged him to fully divest his assets and put the cash in a blind trust in order to avoid any conflicts of interests.

In an interview with the New York Times last week, Trump said a sitting president “can’t have a conflict of interest” and said federal law is “totally on my side.” Presidents are exempt from the 1978 Ethics in Government Act, an exception crafted in the belief that presidents shouldn’t have to worry about triggering ethics probes when making decisions.

Many of Trump’s assets are in the form of licensing deals to put his name on developments all over the world – a type of a brand equity that would be difficult for him to transfer, although three of his adult children – Ivanka, Donald Jnr and Eric – are all Trump Organisation executives who carry the name.

Past presidents have routinely placed their liquid assets, including stocks and bonds, into blind trusts. Trump said on the campaign trail that placing his assets with his children would constitute such a trust, although they are almost always overseen by independent trustees.

Trump’s business deals with overseas partners have raised concerns about the possibility that he could be in violation of the emoluments clause of the US Constitution, which prohibits government officials from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments.

In the Philippines, Trump has a licensing deal for a Trump Tower in Manila with a real-estate developer who was recently named a special government envoy to the US by President Rodrigo Duterte. The largest tenant in the offices of Trump Tower in Manhattan is state-controlled Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, which is due to renegotiate its lease in 2019. And the lease on the hotel Trump recently completed in Washington appears to bar participation by any elected official.

Trump would need to seek official advice from the Office of Legal Counsel at the US Department of Justice on what kind of payments he would be allowed to accept from an entity controlled by a foreign government, said Richard Painter, who was President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer.

“If he just turns the management of his business over to his children, the conflicts remain,“ Painter said. “If he doesn’t sell, he needs to make sure there is no foreign government money coming in there at all.”