Donald Trump announced late Monday that he had decided to postpone a press conference scheduled for Thursday, during which he had been expected to outline the steps he would be taking to separate himself from his extensive business interests around the world.
In a trio of late-night tweets, he wrote, “Even though I am not mandated by law to do so, I will be leaving my businesses before January 20th so that I can focus full time on the Presidency. Two of my children, Don and Eric, plus executives, will manage them. No new deals will be done during my term(s) in office. I will hold a press conference in the near future to discuss the business, Cabinet picks and all other topics of interest. Busy times!”
The tweets echoed previous statements from the president-elect about his plans for dealing with his company, which owns or licenses its name to hotels and golf courses around the world. He has indicated that he will remove himself from the day-to-day decision-making process, but appears to plan on retaining his ownership stake.
Additionally, the promise of some sort of disclosure of his plans at an unspecified later date is reminiscent of Trump’s vow throughout the presidential primary and the general election that he would be releasing information about his taxes -- data that never appeared despite a generations-old precedent of candidates for the Oval Office being highly transparent about their personal finances.
With Trump just weeks away from taking over the presidency, Senate Democrats on Tuesday began a renewed push to get the former reality television star and real estate mogul to divest his assets and replace them with a blind trust. Even though the office is exempted from the conflict of interest laws that apply to Congress and other members of the administration, previous presidents have placed their assets under the control of trustees in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
In Trump’s cases, there is also the danger of violating the Constitution’s “emoluments clause” if he should receive payment, through his businesses, from foreign governments while serving as president.
In a letter Tuesday, 20 Democrats in the Senate called on Trump to make a clean break with his life as a businessman. “We write today regarding the steps you should be taking to address ethical concerns related to potential conflicts of interest as you prepare to become the President of the United States,” the letter begins.
“As a businessman with assets around the world, your holdings have the potential for serious conflicts between the national interest and your personal financial interests. We understand that the Office of Government Ethics, an independent, non-partisan ethics agency created in the wake of the scandals of Watergate, has recently advised you that the only way to resolve these conflicts of interest is through divestiture of your businesses.”
But at this point, barring an unexpected change of heart, Trump seems unlikely to actually sell off his businesses. Indeed, given how inextricably tied to Trump’s public persona his business ventures are, it’s hard to imagine who would buy them without demanding a steep discount that takes into account the diminished value of a Trump-less Trump Organization.
In the end, the choice is Trump’s to make. But Democrats, in the letter Tuesday, were clear about the sort of criticism Trump will come under if he takes the Oval Office next month and starts cutting deals that could be seen as beneficial to his own bottom line.
“Whether the President of the United States makes decisions about potential trade agreements or sending troops into war, the American people need to know that their President is acting in their best interest,” they wrote.
“Divestiture of your businesses and the establishment of a qualified blind trust controlled by an independent party would provide assurances that you will put the interests of the American people first and are fully committed to the success of your presidency.”