Instead, Trump’s company will not enter into new foreign deals and will appoint an ethics adviser who must approve any new domestic deals in writing, according to the ethics arrangement the president-elect laid out Wednesday.
The lawyers also promised that Trump’s businesses and assets will be put into a trust for the duration of the presidency and added he will have “no involvement whatsoever” in the businesses.
Trump had terminated “all pending deals” and would impose “severe new restrictions” on new deals in the United States. As previously said, his two oldest adult sons will manage the company, with the help of a longtime executive of the Trump Organization. The lawyers said Trump will have “limited information rights” regarding what’s happening at the company he built over decades.
Under the new ethics plan, Trump, his children and his longtime business associates will be barred from discussing company operations and the inner workings of the U.S. government. Trump’s team did not provide any details on how that ban would be enforced or verified.
The head of the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics said Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest plan is “meaningless” and sets up the incoming administration for constant controversy.
“I need to talk about ethics today because the plan the president has announced doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the past four decades has met,” OGE chief Walter Shaub said during an afternoon press conference hosted by the Brookings Institution.
Shaub initially praised Trump in November for his ethics moves but said the arrangement the president-elect just announced Wednesday doesn’t address “the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for personal profit.”
“Stepping back from running his positions is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective,” Shaub said. “The presidency is a full-time job and he would have had to step back anyway.”
Trump’s team defended the arrangement during Trump’s morning appearance, saying that divesting or taking the company public was not feasible, and that the current approach would eliminate the possibility of conflicts of interest without causing him “unnecessary” losses.
“President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” said Trump attorney Sheri Dillon.
Trump himself said he was doing more than what it required. “I don’t have to do this,” he said during the nationally-televised press conference at Trump Tower in New York.
Dillon said Trump’s company had terminated 30 business deals ahead of him entering the White House, saying it had cost Trump and his children money.
The organization is interviewing candidates for the job of ethics adviser, a person who must approve new deals in writing, according to the lawyers handling the separation. The lawyers said the adviser’s standards for determining new deals would include “the appropriateness of a counterparty,” whether the transaction reflects the market value and other ethical concerns a deal could raise.
Separately, the Trump Organization is also creating a new position — chief compliance counsel — that makes sure the company is “operating at the highest level of integrity and not taking any actions that could be perceived as exploiting the office of the presidency,” Dillon said.
Trump himself, Dillon said, won’t be apprised of any incremental changes to his portfolio and will only have access to reports on profit and loss for his company as a whole. “He will only know of a deal if he reads it in the paper or sees it on TV,” she said.
Remaining debt will stay in place and will be paid down in the ordinary course of business, the lawyer said.
Ivanka Trump will be completely separated from the business empire, the lawyers said.
Trump also has prohibited his company from making any references in public, including on social media, to his role as president. His attorneys had previously told POLITICO that the company would not be using images of Trump in advertisements and that it also wouldn’t sell any presidential memorabilia inside his hotels or golf course pro shops.
The arrangement isn’t satisfying Trump’s critics, who say that maintaining any ties to his business poses a cascading series of conflict of interest as he governs.
“Tragically, the Trump plan to deal with his business conflicts announced today falls short in every respect,” said Norm Eisen, a former top White House ethics lawyer for President Barack Obama who has been among the most outspoken voices calling for a complete divestment. “Mr. Trump’s ill-advised course will precipitate scandal and corruption.”
“President-elect Donald Trump has failed his ethics test. Now, America will suffer the consequences,” added Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.
Trump had previously said he wouldn’t enter into any new deals, and new domestic deals could still entangle his financial interests with the presidency. Dillon during the press conference explained that the licensing arrangements that are central to Trump’s business — much of his profit comes from selling his name for branding, and he has publicly said his brand is “hotter than ever” — would remain in the hands of the company. She explained that if Trump had sold his brand outside the company, he’d then be entitled to royalties that would only open him up to greater criticism.
“This would result in the trust retaining an interest in the brand without the ability to assure it does not exploit the office of the president,” Dillon said. “Whatever price was paid would be subject to criticism and scrutiny. Was it too high? Is there pay for play? Was too much paid to curry favor with the president-elect?”
His company also plans to keep ownership of a new high-end hotel in downtown Washington, which is leased by the federal government.
Critics and even some of Trump’s friends and longtime business associates expect him to continue talking to his sons about the businesses, and ethics experts have said that he will inherently know how the business is doing — because he knows where his properties are (they are often emblazoned with his name.) And Trump knows what assets he holds, meaning he will inherently understand how new laws will benefit or hurt the trust and his sons.
The Trump lawyers also said a blind trust, selling his business or divesting didn’t make sense. “You cannot have a totally blind trust with an operating business,” Dillon said. “President Trump can’t un-know he owns Trump Tower, and the press will make sure than any new development at the Trump Organization are well publicized.”
As details emerged of Trump’s plan, critics raised questions about whether the president-elect’s new financial arrangement was extensive enough to prevent Constitutional challenges under the emoluments clause, which restricts U.S. officials from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments. Trump’s lawyers say the arcane provision doesn’t apply to Trump’s situation but the president-elect would nonetheless voluntarily give all profits from foreign governments to his hotels to the U.S. treasury.
Inside Trump’s government will be several potential conflict-of-interest landmines because he’ll be appointing agency leaders who have jurisdiction over issues directly relevant to their boss’s private affairs. The General Services Administration, for example, is expected to continue to lease the building that houses Trump’s new Washington hotel. The Labor and Homeland Security departments are charged with handling foreign worker visa applications and illegal immigration enforcement central issues for the hotels and golf courses affiliated with the Trump brand.
And Trump’s organization still owes hundreds of millions in debt to foreign countries, raising additional questions about whether he would be beholden to them.
“Without a full and complete divestment of financial conflicts of interests, the American people will not be able to tell where the Trump Organization ends and where the Trump administration begins,” Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bob Casey and Tammy Baldwin said in a joint statement issued ahead of the Trump press conference.
Democrats in the minority have little power to force hearings or pass legislation aimed at fighting Trump’s conflicts, though that hasn’t stopped them from demanding oversight investigations and threatening to block confirmation of Cabinet nominees. They’re also threatening more dire consequences if Trump pushes the limits of the Constitution and accepts gifts or payments from foreign governments.
In a statement, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Tyler Law said the House GOP was “being naive if they don’t recognize that Donald Trump’s staggering web of conflicts and lack of ethical standards will remain, and ultimately hurt their ability to govern.”
Trump attorneys emphasized the “massive” nature of the Trump business empire and likened it to former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, the heir to an industrial fortune whose finances were placed under intense public scrutiny during congressional hearings upon his 1974 confirmation.
Trump’s team has been scrambling since the election to address its conflicts, relying on a team of lawyers that includes incoming White House general counsel Don McGahn, former Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush counsel Fred Fielding, as well as attorneys from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.
Since the election, the lines have often been murky. Trump has said publicly it is not difficult to separate his business empire from the presidency, but aides and advisers have noted the process has taken so long because it is so difficult.
His sons have traveled across the country and world to analyze the new properties. “I think they will largely be just holding the fort down,” one person close to Trump said.
Eric Trump is expected to have particular power in the businesses, two people close to the transition say.
The Trump Organization also has dropped pending or in-progress projects in Argentina, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Georgia, India and Saudi Arabia. Trump aides last month said the president-elect had sold as much as $40 million in stock holdings during the campaign. He also settled lawsuits alleging fraud at Trump University and backed off plans to build a controversial sea wall to protect his Ireland golf course.
The Trump Organization also settled two labor agreements involving more than 500 workers at its Las Vegas and Washington hotels, agreeing to four-year contracts that give food, beverage and housekeeping employees annual raises and pensions and healthcare benefits.
A New York source involved in the negotiations said Trump was personally involved in the labor talks and suggested the president-elect may still be having a hard time letting go from the business dealings he’s built his career around.
“It’s remarkable,” the source said. “In terms of separation or whatever, I think there’s zero chance that he’s not going to have his fingers in his business.”