Trump says he's leaving his business, but its future remains unknown
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised to place his business in a blind trust run by his children. Experts have criticized that move, and Mr. Trump has yet to make clear how he plans to move forward.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
President-elect Donald Trump announced Wednesday morning that the will leave behind his business and redirect his focus to running the nation, saying he would provide additional updates in a mid-December press conference.
"I will be holding a major news conference in New York City with my children on December 15 to discuss the fact that I will be leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!" he wrote on Twitter.
Mr. Trump’s business ties have caused many to question whether or not he can govern the nation without broaching ethical boundaries. While there’s no law requiring the president to abandon personal business ventures or investments, experts say the integrity of the office and, in some instances, the well-being of the nation demand that presidents separate their personal finances from their work in the Oval Office.
"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," he wrote. "Hence, legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!"
But Trump’s version of blind trust may not fall in line with the traditional type used by nearly every president since Lyndon Johnson. That process involves turning investments over to a third party, who has full control of the assets, and does not report on them to the owner. That way, a sitting elected official has no idea whether or not his or her actions in office will have an impact on their own financial standing.
Trump’s proposals to follow this pattern have raised two issues. The first is the nature of his investments, which are largely public, and consist of buildings around the world bearing his name, which are easily tracked. The second is that Trump has vowed to place his three eldest children, Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric, in charge of the business, a move that critics say would allow Trump easy access to the state of the company.
On top of those, there’s a legal issue at hand. Law forbids the president from accepting any large "gifts" from foreign governments, and any benefits his business may receive from another nation would fall under that category, including the construction of any government-owned buildings abroad with the signature "Trump" logo on them.
"A bottle of vodka from Vladimir Putin, that's fine," Richard Painter, a professor of law at the University of Minnesota, previously told The Christian Science Monitor. "The problem is if you have a company doing business with company run by foreign governments, each one of those transactions could be looked as if there's a gift in it."
The best solution, some experts say, is for Trump to sell his real estate empire, valued at around $3.7 billion, and then open a blind trust, having an investor then manage his funds.
"There's a real danger to undermining his presidency and the standing of the U.S. government by not having good disclosure," Rep. Katherine Clark (D) of Massachusetts told Politico. She recently introduced legislation that would allow Trump to stay behind his business, mandating the he and Vice President-elect Mike Pence put all their assets in a certified blind trust, or inform the Office of Government Ethics and the public when they make decisions that could affect their personal finances, Politico reports.
Trump and those close to him have dismissed concerns about his proposed use of a blind trust.
Appearing on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" early Wednesday, Trump’s chosen chief of staff, Reince Priebus, declined to say whether the president-elect still planned to use a blind trust, but stressed that Trump had never tried to hide his business successes and that voters knew about the potential conflict before casting their ballots.
"This is the first president we've had at least in modern history that's had so many successful businesses and so many diverse areas across the country and in many cases retail and hospitality business that is dependent on people's business. So, it's not the easiest thing to work out," Mr. Priebus said, adding that Trump has got "the best people in America working on it," and that his tweets should indicate he is "taking it seriously."