NEW YORK (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump declared Wednesday he will leave his business empire behind to focus on his presidency. But the prospect that he could simply shift more control to three of his adult children looked too cozy to some business-ethics specialists who suggest the arrangement could bring unprecedented conflicts of interest into the Oval Office.
Trump announced in a series of early morning tweets that he would leave his “great business,” adding: “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 provided no details, though he said legal documents were being prepared. He previously had said he’d leave his business operations to his three eldest children — Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka.
Asked if the tweets indicated plans to move the businesses to the children, Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday, “it appears that way.”
“The three adult children who do already work in the corporation are expected to continue in those roles and in fact increase their responsibilities in those roles,” Conway said.
Ethics experts have pushed for Trump to fully exit the ownership of his businesses using a blind trust or equivalent arrangement.
“Otherwise he will have a personal financial interest in his businesses that will sometimes conflict with the public interest and constantly raise questions,” Norman Eisen, President Barack Obama’s chief ethics lawyer, and Richard Painter, who held the same post for President George W. Bush, said in a joint statement. The laws are generally loose for presidents regarding their businesses except when it comes to ties to or gifts from foreign governments.
All 16 Democratic members of House Judiciary Committee wrote to Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to request hearings to examine conflicts-of-interest and ethics provisions that may apply to Trump.
Trump spent much of Wednesday conducting meetings in his Manhattan high-rise. His pick for secretary of state remains up in the air, though aides say he has narrowed his choices to four. One contender, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney dined with him Tuesday.
Trump has moved forward with other Cabinet selections, choosing former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin as Treasury secretary and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross for Commerce.
Mnuchin, 53, led Trump’s finance operations during the presidential campaign, but he has no government experience. If confirmed by the Senate, he would play a central role in shaping Trump’s tax policies and infrastructure plans. He would also lead an agency tasked with implementing international economic sanctions.
Mnuchin would follow in the tradition of two previous Treasury secretaries who worked at the Goldman Sachs investment firm. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street banks and hit her for paid speeches at Goldman Sachs.
Arriving at Trump Tower Wednesday, Mnuchin said the administration planned “the most significant middle income tax cut since Reagan.” He also called for lowering corporate taxes to encourage companies to stay in the United States.
Meanwhile, Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the outgoing Indiana governor, planned an event Thursday in Indiana in connection with an announcement that the air conditioning giant Carrier Corp. planned to keep nearly 1,000 jobs in the state instead of moving them to Mexico.
Details of the agreement were unclear. Trump spent much of his campaign pledging to keep companies like Carrier from moving jobs out of the U.S., but he also dismissed tax incentives and favorable financing deals often used by state officials to keep major employers home.
Nationally, manufacturers shed 10,000 jobs in November, according to a report Wednesday by payroll services provider ADP. U.S. manufacturing firms have struggled as a stronger dollar has cut into exports and U.S. businesses have spent less on machinery and other equipment. They have cut 53,000 jobs in the past 12 months.
Trump’s sprawling business empire is unprecedented for a modern sitting president, as is the complexity and opaqueness of his holdings. He refused to release his taxes during the campaign, citing an ongoing audit, and will be under no legal obligation to do so in the White House.
Trump owns golf clubs, office towers and other properties in several countries. He holds ownership 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.
Eric Trump demurred Wednesday when asked for details on how his father would separate himself from his businesses, saying: “You’ll hear soon enough.”
AP writers Steve Peoples, Kathleen Hennessey, Julie Bykowicz and Christopher Rugaber in Washington in New York contributed to this report.
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