President-elect Donald Trump announced this morning that he will hand “complete and total control” of his vast business empire to his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump and to Alan Weisselberg, a longtime Trump business executive, through a financial trust.
In a long-awaited press conference, Donald Trump Sr. introduced Sheri Dillon, a lawyer at firm Morgan Lewis in Washington, D.C., who he said organized a way to “completely isolate [Trump] from the management of the company.”
Despite Trump’s previous pledge to put his business assets into a blind trust, Dillon said that would not be possible.
“You cannot have a totally blind trust with operating businesses,” she said. “President Trump can’t un-know he owns Trump Tower.”
Dillon announced Trump’s protective plans to ensure he is not in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits officials from accepting gifts or emoluments from foreign governments — which ethics experts have alleged Trump could violate without complete divestment from his businesses.
“The Constitution does not require President-elect Trump to do anything here, but just like with conflicts of interest, he wants to do more than what the Constitution requires,” she said. “He is going to voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotels to the United States Treasury. This way it is the American people who will profit.”
Dillon said that Trump’s decision to separate himself from the Trump Organization was made “voluntarily” and noted that under U.S. conflict of interest laws the president and vice president “are not required to separate themselves from their financial assets.”
“He instructed us to take all steps realistically possible to make it clear that he is not exploiting the office of the presidency for his personal benefit,” she said.
Trump suggested that he would be capable of handling his business responsibilities and the presidency concurrently.
“I could actually run my business and run government at the same time. I don’t like the way that looks. But I would be able to do that if I wanted to. I would be the only one to be able to do that. You can’t do that in any other capacity,” he said.
According to Dillon, Trump is relinquishing leadership and management of his real estate empire and will no longer be involved in decision-making with the company’s new leadership.
Several ethics experts contacted by ABC News after today’s announcement scoffed at the suggestion Trump was effectively distancing himself from his business.
“Tragically, the Trump plan to deal with his business conflicts announced today falls short in every respect,” said former Obama ethics czar Norm Eisen. “Mr. Trump did not make a clean break with his business ownership interests as his predecessors for four decades have done, did not establish a blind trust or the equivalent, as bipartisan experts and [the Office of Government Ethics] called for … Mr. Trump’s ill-advised course will precipitate scandal and corruption.”
Richard Painter, the chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, said the plan announced by Trump “doesn’t work.”
“He still maintains ownership – the assets are not being sold,” he explained. “The sons are in charge of his assets which is a problem, but the bigger problem is that assets are not being sold.”
More importantly, “President-elect Trump needs to release tax returns so we get a sense of involvement with Russia,” Painter said.
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