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Trump To Cede Control Of Trump Organization

Wednesday, January 11, 2017
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President-elect Donald Trump said he will put his assets into a trust and relinquish control of his business to his two adult sons in an effort to avoid conflicts of interest during his presidency, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Trump will sever management ties to the Trump Organization and play no role in its operations, under the terms of the trust. While he is in office, his real estate empire will abide by “severe restrictions on all new deals,” an attorney involved in the matter said. If foreign governments make payments to his hotels—including a new one near the White House—Mr. Trump plans to donate all profits to the U.S. treasury, the attorney said.

Mr. Trump’s sons, Eric and Donald Jr., will be running the Trump Organization.

In a news conference Wednesday, Mr. Trump said he is legally entitled to serve as president and run his business, but has opted not to do that.

“My two sons are going to be running the company,” he said. “They are going to be running it in a very professional way. They’re not going to discuss it with me.”

On a table next to the lectern, the Trump transition team piled huge stacks of paper laying out the terms of the trust.

Under the agreement, Mr. Trump will also appoint an ethics adviser who will give written approval of new deals and transactions that could raise concerns about conflicts of interest.

No new foreign deals will be permitted, Sheri Dillon, an attorney retained by Mr. Trump, said at the news conference. During his remarks, Mr. Trump said that over the past weekend, he turned down an opportunity to do a billion-dollar deal in Dubai because he wanted to avoid creating an ethics issue.

New domestic deals will be allowed but will go through “a vigorous vetting process,” Ms. Dillon said.

The steps Mr. Trump is taking to distance himself from his businesses won’t eliminate all potential conflicts of interest because the trust he is creating to hold all his businesses will continue to receive over $100 million a year from their profits.

An analysis by The Wall Street Journal of Mr. Trump’s financial disclosures last year estimated his 2016 pretax income at $160 million. A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign said this figure was wrong by “a lot,” but didn’t elaborate.

Mr. Trump also will continue to be aware of the sources of this income and could be influenced by business considerations as president.

For example, Mr. Trump’s financial disclosures said that he received $1 million to $5 million from his licensing deal with the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Panama. If the U.S. were to get into a dispute with that country during the Trump administration, his desire to maintain this revenue stream could influence his decision making.

Mr. Trump, as president, won’t be subject to the same conflict-of-interest laws that apply to other federal employees.

Some ethics experts say the trust and other measures envisioned by Mr. Trump don’t create the firewall needed to fully insulate him from his holdings.

They have called on Mr. Trump to sell his assets, citing a constitutional clause that addresses payments from foreign governments and other potential conflicts they say could put the president’s personal financial interests out of step with the interests of the U.S. more broadly.

Richard Painter, formerly an ethics attorney for president George W. Bush and a critic of Mr. Trump’s business plan, said in an interview Wednesday that he still has serious concerns.

“Nobody should be doing deals with assets owned by the president of the United States other than a blind trustee,” Mr. Painter said. “This is a major issue about a president with financial exposure outside the United States and is a serious conflict of interest.”

Mr. Trump has vast business interests that dwarf those of previous modern presidents. Unlike others with business holdings, he isn’t putting his assets into a blind trust managed by someone outside his family.

Particularly unique are his foreign holdings, which include deals to license the Trump brand and manage hotels in foreign countries under development partners who themselves have diverse business interests and, in some cases, political involvement in their own countries.

Most of the major deals announced by the Trump Organization in recent years have been foreign licensing deals.

Under pressure from ethics attorneys and others, the Trump Organization has canceled some of its early-stage deals in the countries of Georgia, Brazil and Azerbaijan with partners who were under government corruption probes or the subject of media reports of past corruption issues.

Yet company executives have said they don’t intend to or have the ability to cancel other deals with buildings under construction, which they say are under tight contracts.

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