President-elect Donald Trump announced Wednesday that his two eldest sons will take over the day-to-day management of his vast financial empire in an effort to avoid potential conflicts of interest — a plan the head of U.S. Office of Government Ethics criticized as not meeting “the standard” of past presidents who have divested from their financial interests while in office.
At his first news conference since winning office, and days away from assuming the presidency, Trump said he would transfer his financial assets, including his chain of hotels and golf courses, into a trust that will be managed by his sons Donald Jr. and Eric and longtime business partner Allen Weisselberg.
His daughter Ivanka Trump, who will move with husband Jared Kushner, a newly named adviser to the president-elect, to Washington, D.C., also will be removed from management at Trump Organization, said Donald Trump’s legal adviser, Sheri Dillon, a tax attorney at Morgan Lewis.
Trump’s plan to appoint his sons to administer his empire, while still retaining ownership, falls short of recommendations made by the Office of Government Ethics and former White House ethics attorneys, who for months have called on Trump to place his assets in a blind trust to be managed by a government-appointed administrator, as previous presidents have done to avoid ethical entanglements.
Dillon told reporters that placing the real estate mogul’s financial holdings in a blind trust, or selling off all his assets as has also been recommended, were impractical given the magnitude of his business empire.
“President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” Dillon said, later adding, “Some people have suggested a blind trust, but you cannot have a totally blind trust. . . . President Trump can’t unknow he owns Trump Tower.”
Trump told reporters his sons would not consult him on business matters during his presidency, and said in recent weeks that he has taken steps to guard against any possible conflicts between his private business interests and his new public duties, including terminating dozens of pending business deals in other countries.
Asked whether Russia had any financial leverage over him, Trump said: “I have no loans with Russia at all,” saying that his company has “very low debt.”
“I have no loans and I have no dealings” with Russia, Trump said. “We could make deals in Russia very easily if we wanted to, I just don’t want to because I think that would be a conflict.”
The Trump Organization will appoint an ethics adviser who will need to sign off on any deals, Dillon said, adding that while “no new foreign deals will be made whatsoever during the duration” of Trump’s presidency, “domestic deals will be allowed, but they will go through a vigorous vetting process.”
The company will also “voluntarily” donate hotel profits generated from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury, Dillon said, amid concerns that foreign diplomats and officials booking rooms in Trump’s hotels were seeking to curry favor and access with the new administration.
Office of Government and Ethics Director Walter Shaub, in a Wednesday appearance before a Washington, D.C., policy think tank, called Trump’s plan “meaningless.”
“The plan the president-elect has announced doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the last four decades have met,” Shaub said during a speech to the Brookings Institution. “ . . . We can’t risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for profit.”
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington, said Trump’s plan “failed to live up to the ethical standard of past presidents, including Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush.”
“It is absurd to believe he will have no knowledge of his business, when he will continue to own it, and it will be run by his children,” Bookbinder said. “He claims that he will only know what he reads in newspapers, but newspapers report which foreign dignitaries are staying at his hotel. His businesses all have his name on them in giant gold letters. . . . Every decision he will make as president will be followed by the specter of doubt, and will be questioned as to whether his decision is in the best interest of the American people or the best interest of his bottom line.”
With Emily Ngo