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Trumps eye measures to avoid ethics issues with their businesses

President-elect Donald Trump's family members, from left, wife

President-elect Donald Trump's family members, from left, wife Melania, daughter Ivanka, and sons Eric and Donald Jr. listen to the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka, along with son-in-law Jared Kushner were named to the Trump transition team's executive committee. Credit: AFP/Getty Images / Tasos Katopodis

A coffee date with Ivanka Trump in exchange for a donation to a children’s hospital? Removed from the online auction site.

A hunting or fishing excursion with Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump to be won at a fundraiser the day after their father’s inauguration? Described by the transition team as “initial concepts” that didn’t have the family’s approval.

President-elect Donald Trump’s children are moving in the right direction when it comes to distancing themselves from perceived access-peddling, but how clearly he defines their roles in his businesses and his White House will be crucial to containing conflicts of interest, ethics lawyers said.

“They’re starting to focus on the magnitude,” said Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics counsel to former President George W. Bush.

Donald Jr., 38, Ivanka, 35, and Eric, 32, are maneuvering their own ethics minefields as Donald Trump prepares a plan to separate himself from businesses that span the globe.

Trump last Friday lamented the concessions one son made.

“My wonderful son, Eric, will no longer be allowed to raise money for children with cancer because of a possible conflict of interest with my presidency,” the president-elect tweeted. “Isn’t this a ridiculous shame?”

Eric Trump — who tried to auction off the coffee date with his sister, Ivanka — told The New York Times that he understood the “quagmire” of being the son of an incoming president and would no longer directly solicit donations for his charitable foundation.

Also last week, a transition spokeswoman said Eric and Donald Trump Jr. aren’t involved with an “Opening Day” event that, according to an invitation obtained by TMZ, initially offered a chance to hunt or fish with them and “rub elbows” with their father in exchange for up to $1 million for conservation causes.

The president-elect’s three oldest children are Trump Organization executive vice presidents as well as transition team executive committee members.

They shouldn’t have dual roles when Trump takes office, Painter said.

“Which kids are playing on the government side and which kids are playing on the business side? Get a firewall up there,” he said, adding that the Trump family should first and foremost declare they won’t take money from foreign governments.

Children formally working for the White House would be subject to federal conflicts-of-interest laws that also restrict Cabinet members, but not the president and vice president, legal experts said. There is some debate over whether and how anti-nepotism laws would apply.

Trump has put off until next month an announcement that had been scheduled for Dec. 15 on how he will avoid the conflicts of interest created by vast holdings that include real estate around the world. A transition spokeswoman had said his legal advisers needed “ample time to implement the proper protocols.”

The president-elect tweeted in mid-December that he will leave his businesses before his Jan. 20 inauguration and have Donald Jr. and Eric manage them with other executives.

Aides would not say whether that means Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, 35, will have White House positions.

Aides also would not clarify whether Trump will retain an ownership stake.

“His keeping ownership is a problem. His kids running the business is a problem,” said Meredith McGehee, strategic adviser with the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington watchdog group on money in politics.

The children still would serve as a conduit to their father, the president, especially in the international business community, she said. “You grease his kids, you get access,” she said.

Politico reported last week that Trump’s team is considering a “discretionary trust,” or a “half-blind trust,” for either him, his family members or his administration officials. It would have legal protections similar to a blind trust but also the opportunities for the official to monitor the holdings and receive revenues.

“Since he’s not required to do anything under the law, it sounds like a step in the right direction,” said Kenneth Gross, who advised Michael Bloomberg on the management of his assets when he became mayor of New York City. “It’s a blind trust with a seeing-eye dog.”

McGehee criticized the concept as a “gimmick.” Painter called it “inappropriate.” They are among legal experts advocating for a true blind trust similar to the one used by past presidents.

The measure would require Trump to choose an independent trustee to sell his assets and purchase investments unknown to the president-elect. That trustee cannot be a family member.

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