(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Facing mounting pressure concerning potential conflicts of interest while in office, Donald Trump says he will sever ties with the Trump Organization — the business he inherited and helped grow into a global real estate empire.
In a series of tweets and a Facebook post on Wednesday morning, the president-elect wrote that will hold a “major news conference in New York City” on December 15 to discuss that he will leave his “great business in total – in order to fully focus on running the country.” His children — whom he has said in the past will take over his business operations — will be present.
“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 the post. “Hence, legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!”
While the president is exempt from many federal conflict of interest laws that apply to other executive branch officials, some legal scholars believe his business ties could violate the Constitution — specifically the Emoluments Clause, which bars the president from accepting gifts, or maybe even payments, from foreign governments. Some believe that the state-controlled Bank of China renting space in Trump Tower, for example, violates the clause; others claim Trump would have to accept above-market rent payments to breach it.
In other cases Trump may actually be mandated by law to cut ties with business dealings. His recently-opened D.C. hotel occupies the Old Post Office building, which he leases from the government. According to two federal procurement experts, the agreement Trump signed with the General Services Administration in 2013 explicitly bars any elected official — including the president — from the holding the lease.
Trump’s specific plan to remove the potential for conflicts of interest remains unclear. Selling off his assets in an arm’s length transaction and putting the resulting cash into a true blind trust overseen by an independent trustee would likely do the trick, but it’s improbable that Trump will do that. He has previously stated that his children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — will run the companies. If Trump retains ownership but just hands over control, conflicts of interest may still arise. His children have sat in on meetings with foreign diplomats, leading to questions about how independent the Trump Organization will be from the powers of the executive branch.
America’s first billionaire president, Trump’s worldwide business interests present an unprecedented chance for conflicts. Forbes estimates Trump to be worth $3.7 billion. He owns nearly $3.3 billion worth of real estate throughout the U.S., and licenses his name to projects around the world — including countries such as Qatar, Turkey and the Philippines. In all Trump has more than $1.1 billion in debt, at least $280 million of it owed to German lender Deutsche Bank.