US President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday he will discuss leaving his business while in the White House, at a press conference next month with his children.
“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 said in a pair of tweets.
“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.”
The Republican elected to the White House made his fortune by building a network of hotels, office towers and luxury apartment buildings, as the head of the Trump Organization.
His real estate empire is primarily located in the United States, but also extends to countries such as South Korea and Turkey. Managing political relations with such US allies while president risks creating a curious mix of competing goals.
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 …
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2016
great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! While I am not mandated to …. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2016
The Trump Organization is not publicly traded, so many of its activities are closed to scrutiny. But US media have reported it has financial ties with people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose leadership the real estate mogul praised during his campaign.
“For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia,” Trump tweeted in July.
The potential for conflicts of interest from Trump’s business activities are not limited to countries like Russia. According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump has received some $2.5 billion in loans from Deutsche Bank since 1998.
Accusations of conflicts of interest are not new in US politics. They tainted the administration of president George W. Bush, whose vice president Dick Cheney, until his appointment in 2000, headed the Halliburton oil services and logistics company that went on to win lucrative contracts in Iraq after the US invasion.
But the problem takes on another dimension with Trump, whose name is inextricably tied to his business empire.
“It’s unprecedented in the history of the US in part because we don’t know the scope or the nature of his many financial ties in particular,” Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told AFP.
She said one ethical point of particular concern is that Trump financed his company’s expansion through debt.
“We don’t know to whom he owes money. In some ways, owing money is a much more significant financial contact than an investment,” she said.
Trump, until today, has not spoken much about his potential conflicts of interest. Possibly because few imagined he would end up in the Oval Office, but also perhaps because US laws on the issue are flexible when it comes to the president.
Under current law, while non-elected members of the US administration face stringent constraints on their business activities, those rules do not apply to the president or vice president.
Although the US Constitution prohibits any politician from accepting any “fee” from a foreign power, there is no prohibition on doing business with private partners abroad.
Trump had pledged during the campaign to entrust his business to a blind trust which would wall him off from any say in the company’s activities. But the tycoon added that this would put the company under the control of three of his children who are already executive vice presidents of the Trump Organization.