Donald Trump says he will step away from managing his business empire while he’s in office — but he’s not going to sell it off. If he follows through, he will shatter a presidential precedent on conflicts, and ethics experts say he will open the door to investigations and lawsuits that could hobble his administration.
“My executives will run it with my children,” he said in a Fox News interview that aired Sunday. He added that he will not have “anything to do with management” and won’t “do deals” for his business while he’s president.
That’s “a step in the right direction, but he can’t have people doing deals on his behalf,” said Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush. “He can’t have ownership.”
Indeed, for decades, presidents have sold their stocks and other personal holdings and put the cash into a blind trust overseen by an investment manager. For example, to stay on the right side of ethics, President Jimmy Carter sold his Georgia peanut farm.
That was one business. In one state.
The Trump Organization presents a far more complex situation. He has ownership stakes in residential towers, hotels, resorts and golf clubs in the U.S., and has struck licensing and property management deals for similar properties around the world. In a financial disclosure he was required to file during the campaign, he listed stakes in about 500 companies in at least 25 countries.
Only by selling to an uninterested third party can Trump assuage critics who suggest that otherwise he could shape regulatory, tax or foreign policies to enrich himself. A sale would also prevent people from trying to influence policies by helping — or threatening to hurt — his business.
Trump was expected to offer more details at a news conference Thursday, but has postponed that until next month. Few are expecting a clean break from all his ventures.