U.S. President-elect Donald Trump says he is completely removing himself from his global business empire to avoid conflicts of interest with running the country when he assumes power January 20.
Soon to be the wealthiest U.S. president, Trump said in a series of Twitter comments that he would relinquish control over his hotels, golf courses, resorts, Trump-branded consumer products, office buildings and residential properties that are perhaps worth billions of dollars and span the United States and 18 other countries.
Trump is not required by U.S. law to divest his holdings, but he said that he feels “it is visually important, as president, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.”
“The presidency is a far more important task," he said.
Left unclear is whether Trump plans to create a blind trust for his vast assets, with an independent manager and no Trump family control, which numerous other, less wealthy U.S. presidents have done.
Trump said legal documents are being drafted to end his involvement in his business ventures. The 70-year-old Trump said he would discuss the issue at a December 15 news conference with his children, apparently referring to his three eldest, Donald Trump Jr., Eric and Ivanka, all in their 30s, whom he previously said he wanted to run the Trump Organization if he were elected president.
FILE - Donald Trump (R) along with his children Eric (L), Ivanka (2nd L) and Donald Jr. attend a ceremony announcing a new hotel and condominium complex in Vancouver, British Columbia, June 19, 2013.
Bowing to public demands
In ending his business control, Trump is bowing to the public demands of ethics experts who said that if he did not, it would raise continual questions about his actions as president, whether it be labor and pay policies affecting hundreds of workers at his U.S. resorts, military actions he might undertake overseas or which countries he visits and world leaders he meets with.
As recently as last week, Trump dismissed concerns about his holdings and whether they would present a conflict of interest in running the U.S. government.
“Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal,” Trump tweeted.
Watch: Trump Assets Raise Eyebrows
Some ethics experts, however, have said since the Republican Trump’s stunning upset win three weeks ago that it was not sufficient to turn control of his business empire over to the three children. They said he needed to create a blind trust, a financial mechanism in which Trump or an independent manager would sell his holdings, with the substantial assets then being managed independently without his knowledge or family involvement.
"Otherwise he will have a personal financial interest in his businesses that will sometimes conflict with the public interest and constantly raise questions," Norman Eisen, President Barack Obama's chief ethics lawyer,and Richard Painter, who held the same post for President George W. Bush, said in a joint statement.
Karen Hobert Flynn, president of the government watchdog Common Cause, said it is unacceptable if Trump or his family members retain ownership of his business interests. She said it is important for the president-elect to "focus solely on what is best for the American people, not what advances Trump's business empire."
Reince Priebus, Trump’s incoming White House chief of staff, told MSNBC Trump has "the best people in America” working on the details of removing himself from his decades-long involvement in the family businesses.
But Priebus declined to say whether the president-elect is creating a blind trust or leaving the businesses in the hands of his children.
“I’m not ready to reveal that really,” Priebus said.
(L-R) Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, then-Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Tiffany Trump and Ivanka Trump attend an official ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C., Oct. 26, 2016.
On several occasions, Trump has made it clear that he wants the three children to run the business empire.
He said that when he flirted with running for president in 2011, his three eldest children were too young and inexperienced in the business world.
“When I looked last time, they really weren’t prepared, they weren’t ready,” Trump told Britain’s Daily Mail. “But now they’re ready – Ivanka and Don and Eric ..."
Trump has substantial business holdings in at least 18 countries, including China, South Korea, Azerbaijan, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, the Philippines, Turkey and India. Much of his line of commercial products, including furniture and clothing, is manufactured overseas, and all of these activities could be affected or influenced by his policies on trade, U.S. military intervention or other global disputes.
In Turkey, a NATO partner and important U.S. ally in fighting Islamic State, Trump has a licensing deal that allows his name to be used on two towers in Istanbul. But he angered some officials there with his campaign call to ban Muslims from immigrating to the United States.
In the United States he will oversee the country’s tax collection agency, the Internal Revenue Service, after pointedly refusing to release his U.S. tax returns during the election campaign. It was the first time in 40 years a U.S. presidential candidate had failed to disclose the documents before an election.
Washington D.C. hotel
In Washington, he recently opened a luxury hotel a few blocks from his new home at the White House. But a possible conflict lurks there, too, since Trump’s business empire leases the property for the hotel under a 60-year agreement with the U.S. government’s property management agency.