WASHINGTON ― President-elect Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he would place his two sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, in charge of his multibillion-dollar Trump Organization.
“My two sons, who are right here, Don and Eric, are going to be running the company,” Trump said at a press conference in New York. “They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They’re not going to discuss it with me.”
Sheri Dillon, a financial adviser at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, said at the event that Trump’s sons would have no business-related contact with their father while he serves as president, and the company will appoint an ethics adviser to oversee any possible conflicts. The president-elect and his daughter Ivanka Trump, whose husband will become a senior White House adviser, will resign all positions in the Trump Organization, Dillon said.
Dillon added that the Trump Organization will not make any new foreign deals during his administration. The company will still pursue domestic deals.
The decision to put his two adult sons in charge of his company while the president-elect maintains a financial stake in the business will do little to alleviate concerns about the conflicts of interest he will face in office.
Norm Eisen, the top ethics adviser to President Barack Obama, laid out a simple test for Trump prior to the press conference.
“Is he turning it over all to the trustee or not?” Eisen said. “Clean break, blind trust or equivalent as every president has done for four decades. If he fails that test, he’s failing the presidency, he’s failing the American people, he’s failing the Constitution and failing all of us.”
Trump’s announcement falls far short of that standard. He will maintain a financial stake in his business, meaning that he will be subject to certain laws and constitutional provisions targeting financial conflicts of interest of the president of the United States.
At the end of his press conference, the president-elect made clear to note that he would still maintain a stake in his company that he could return to later. “I hope at the end of eight years I’ll come back and say, ‘Oh, you did a good job,’” he said. “Otherwise, if they do a bad job, I’ll say, ‘You’re fired.’”
Dillon said during the press conference that Trump did not pursue a sale of assets because any effort to sell the company would be hampered by the fact that its largest asset is the brand name associated with the president-elect.
“Selling his assets without the rights to the brand would greatly diminish the value of the assets and create a fire sale,” Dillon said. “President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built.”
She added that Trump could not pursue a blind trust, as he knows what he owns and which buildings have his name on them. This is a point that’s been made by ethics experts, who have advocated for Trump to appoint an independent trustee to sell his assets and put the proceeds into a true blind trust.
Richard Painter, the former top ethics advisor to President George W. Bush, said that Trump’s plan for his business “does not work because he’s retained an ownership stake and all the existing conflicts of interest are in place.”
“It’s completely unprecedented,” he added, noting that every other president has extricated themselves from their business conflicts, “except for this one.”
Questions about Trump’s conflicts of interest related to his business holdings barely made noise during the presidential campaign. He was asked in debates and television interviews what he would do with his business if he won. “I would have nothing to do with my company,” he said in September. He floated handing off…