President-elect Donald Trump is taking steps to distance himself from the company that bears his name, but he might stop short of fully separating himself from all his business interests as he takes office, a new report claims.
On Nov. 8, Trump became the first billionaire elected as president of the U.S. and, while many past presidents have been wealthy, his estimated worth of about $3.7 billion eclipses the holdings of the previous most-wealthy commander-in-chief -- George Washington, the nation's first president, who was worth more than half a billion in adjusted dollars, according to USA Today.
Never before has a president-elect prepared to take office with such vast holdings. According to CNN, Trump's interests include some 144 companies operating in 25 countries. And while he's known as a real estate mogul, he also leases his name to high-end developers in other countries, where the Trump brand is synonymous with luxury.
According to the Office of Government Ethics, nothing short of a full divestiture would solve all of the president-elect's potential conflicts of interest. Meanwhile, NPR notes Trump has scheduled a press conference on Dec. 15 to detail "leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country.”
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Total divestiture would involve selling all of Trump's stakes in his own umbrella company, the Trump Organization, and handing over his assets to a trust comprised of financial experts who will invest the president's money for him -- without Trump knowing where the money is invested, the New York Times reported.
Such an arrangement would make it impossible for Trump to make decisions that benefit his business interests, even subconsciously, while also removing the possibility that other governments and world leaders would try to curry favor with the incoming president by arranging deals favorable to his resorts, hotels, casinos and luxury apartment towers.
The Times, however, citing an unnamed source the paper said has been "briefed on the discussions," reported that Trump is looking at an arrangement that would separate him and his daughter, Ivanka, from the company while leaving Trump's eldest sons in charge of day-to-day operations at the Trump Organization.
The president is not subject to the same conflict of interest laws that govern other federal employees and lawmakers, a fact Trump has cited on several occasions. But following unwritten ethics protocols is a tradition among commanders-in-chief, and ethicists have called for the president-elect to honor those protocols.
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"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," Trump tweeted. He said "legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations."
Trump also says he's dumped all of his stocks. Although he said nothing at the time and hasn't provided documentation detailing the sell-off, a story in the Washington Post quotes the real estate mogul saying he made the move because he believed he would win the election -- and because it gave him liquid funds to invest in his campaign, which was partly self-funded.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to be owning stocks when I’m making deals for this country that maybe will affect one company positively and one company negatively," Trump told "Today" show host Matt Lauer. "So I just felt it was a conflict."
Some observers say the steps Trump has taken -- and plans to take -- still aren't enough.
“This leaves us exactly where we thought we would be,” Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, told the Huffington Post. “It is, assuming this is what he announces next week, an entirely inadequate approach to avoiding conflicts.”