President-Elect Donald Trump on Wednesday laid out a wide-ranging plan to separate himself from his vast business empire and insulate his administration from potentially thorny ethical entanglements.
At a news conference where allegations of fake news and Trump’s Russia ties seem destined to overshadow Trump’s business considerations, the president-elect noted that the president legally is exempt from ethics rules that apply to other executive branch officers. But he said he wanted to remove any doubt that he would be compromised by competing motivations.
“It sounds like they’re using an excess of caution … All of those [safeguards] sound sufficient. Nobody should expect him to sell Trump Tower or Mar-a-Lago.”
“Over the weekend, I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai with a very, very, very amazing man, a great, great developer, from the Middle East … And I turned it down,” he said.
Sheri Dillon, a lawyer who helped put together the plan, laid out the details.
“He is completely separating himself from his business interests,” she said.
Dillon spoke near a stack of binders representing some of the hundreds of entities that make up the Trump Organization. Trump will sign over total control of the company to his two sons, Don Jr. and Eric, and a third longtime executive at the company. Daughter Ivanka Trump, who is relocating to Washington with her family, also will have nothing to do with the company.
What’s more, Trump has pledged to have no conversations with them about the business.
“To further reinforce the wall that we are building between President-Elect Trump and the Trump Organization, President-Elect Trump has ordered through his trust agreement to sharply limit his information rights,” she said.
That means Trump will receive only generalized profit-and-loss statements for the entire company, with no details that might affect his decision-making as president, Dillon said.
Dillon said the company will terminate all pending deals, numbering more than 30, which will cost the company millions of dollars. She said the trust agreement will require the appointment of an ethics adviser to the management team; that officer will have to approve all new deals. And the Trump Organization will not make any new deals in foreign countries, she said.
As another step, Dillon said, Trump will donate all profits on payments by foreigners to his companies — such as hotel rooms or office rent in buildings owned by the company — to the U.S. treasury.
“This way, it is the American people who will profit,” she said.
Dillon addressed several suggestions some people have made to erect a higher wall between Trump and his businesses. Why not simply divest?
“Selling first and foremost would not eliminate the possibilities of conflicts of interest,” she said. “In fact, it would exacerbate them. The Trump brand is key to the value of the Trump Organization assets.”
Selling buildings and other physical assets would subject the price paid on every sale to intense scrutiny, Dillon said. She said high prices might trigger suspicion that buyers were over-paying to curry favor with the administration. On the flip side, she added, divestment might set off a “fire sale” and depress prices.
“President-Elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” she said. “This plan offers a suitable alternative to address the concerns of the American people. And selling the entire Trump Org isn’t even feasible.”
Selling to Trump’s children would triggers massive third-party debt, according to Dillon, who added that Trump would retain the financial interest if he self-financed the sale to them.
In addition, Dillon said, a totally blind trust would not be possible for a real estate company like it is with stocks and other investments.
“President Trump can’t un-know that he owns Trump Tower, she said. “And the press will make sure that any new developments at the Trump Org are well-publicized.”
Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, agreed that real estate is harder to deal with than other kinds of assets that are more liquid.
“If you try to sell assets — particularly real estate assets, on short notice — you’ll take a bath,” said Boehm, whose organization promotes ethics in government.
Boehm said the steps outline by Trump seem reasonable.
“It sounds like they’re using an excess of caution,” he said. “All of those [safeguards] sound sufficient. Nobody should expect him to sell Trump Tower or Mar-a-Lago.