Donald Trump says he will leave business 'in total': Are there any conflict of interests?

Donald Trump on Wednesday sought to head off criticism that his vast business empire poses an unprecedented conflict of interest for an incoming US president, even as he came under attack for packing his Cabinet with fellow billionaires.

"I will be leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to make America great again," he tweeted in a series of missives sent before dawn. "While I am not mandated to do this under the law, I feel it is visually important, as president, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses."

The US President-elect, however, did not say who would take over his multibillion-dollar global property and luxury branding interests, but said his children would be present at a 15 December news conference.

He has previously said his daughter Ivanka and sons Eric and Donald Jr could take day-to-day charge, but it remained unclear what he would do with his personal stake.

The US law does not require Trump to give up his business portfolio, although the Constitution states no federal official can receive a gift or "emolument" from a foreign government.

Some previous presidents have placed their investments in a blind trust, but they were not required to do so and Trump has said since winning election in early November that his lawyers believe it unnecessary.

Home soil

US President-elect Donald Trump. File photo. AP

US President-elect Donald Trump. File photo. AP

Critics argue that it would be an unprecedented ethical conflict for Trump to maintain an interest in properties spanning the globe — investments that rely partly on goodwill from foreign governments and regulators.

Even on home soil, his company has been attacked for marketing the new Trump International Hotel in Washington — just blocks from the White House — to foreign diplomats.

His new chief of staff, Reince Priebus, has insisted there are "smart ethics lawyers" working on a plan to resolve this issue.

Trump has admitted the hotel's brand is probably "hotter" now that he is to be president, but has vaguely promised to "phase out" his hands-on, check-signing role in Trump Organisation business.

Meanwhile, Trump's showpiece Washington hotel is at risk once its namesake becomes president, US legal experts said, because of a contract clause that forbids elected officials from having any stake in the property.

Trump International Hotel, located a stone's throw from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, had its grand opening ceremony last month, with the Manhattan billionaire taking time from the campaign trail to preside at the event.

The Trump Organisation spent some $200 million on renovations reopening the former government office building as a hotel.

But a 60-year lease that it signed in 2013 with the federal government's General Services Administration for the capital's historic Old Post Office bars any "elected official" from profiting in the arrangement.

"The lease — in which Donald Trump would, in effect, be both landlord and tenant — now presents unprecedented and intolerable conflicts of interest," Steven Schooner and Daniel Gordon, two experts on government procurement law, wrote in an essay published on Monday, reported AFP.

"In a perfect world, Trump and the GSA would negotiate a mutually agreeable termination of the lease or a novation/transfer to an unrelated firm," they wrote, adding that this was unlikely and that therefore the agency should act unilaterally to end the relationship.

Contacted by AFP, the GSA said only that it would work with Trump's transition team "to address any issues that may be related to the Old Post Office building."

But the GSA said it is up to the Office of Government Ethics to provide "guidance to the executive branch on questions of ethics and conflicts of interest."

In an interview with NPR, Schooner said that as things stand currently, "some civil servant at GSA is going to sit down with the president of the United States' children to negotiate adjustments to a multimillion-dollar lease on an annual basis — that's incomprehensible."

The Wall Street Journal reported that Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to the committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) stating that their concerns that "foreign governments and government-owned corporations may steer business to [Trump], or offer him favorable business terms, in an effort to gain political influence with his administration.”

The report added that among the 26 foreign leaders to whom Trump has spoken after the election, he has real estate projects in eight of them.

Vox pointed out that even though Trump's children runs his businesses, it would not serve as a blind trust and that Trump's children have not separated his "business and political interests".

Trump owns golf clubs, office towers and other properties in several countries. He holds stakes in more than 500 companies. He has struck licensing deals for use of his name on hotels and other buildings around the world and has been landing new business in the Middle East, India and South America.

(With inputs from agencies) 

Updated Date: Dec 01, 2016 17:45 PM

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