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Trump to Sever Business Ties, But Conflicts Possible if Kids Run Firm

President-elect floats ban of immigrants, students from Somalia

Trump Tower in Manhattan, the hub of the president-elect’s business. (Michael Lopez via Flickr)
Trump Tower in Manhattan, the hub of the president-elect’s business. (Michael Lopez via Flickr)

Updated 10:16 a.m.

President-elect Donald Trump plans to step away from his business holdings while in office, but conflicts of interests are still possible if his children both run the company and advise him.

Trump’s second Twitter bombshell in as many mornings came after he dropped another post on the social media that offered clues into his plans for immigration policy, a tweet that suggested he would block individuals from Somalia from entering the United States.

“ISIS is taking credit for the terrible stabbing attack at Ohio State University by a Somali refugee who should not have been in our country,” Trump wrote, suggesting his proposed ban of individuals from Muslim countries could be part of any immigration package he sends to Capitol Hill.

It’s not clear whether even members of his own party would support that. The attacker was an OSU student.

It was not immediately clear whether Trump’s announcement of his coming severing ties to the company he built was meant to divert attention from the tweet he fired off exactly 20 minutes earlier. But it certainly garnered the immediate attention of the cable news networks Trump is said to watch religiously.

“I will be holding a major news conference in New York City with my children on December 15 to discuss the fact that I will be leaving my…” Trump tweeted before 7 a.m. For a few minutes, the master of political theater and social media left everyone in suspense.

He picked up the thought in a follow-on tweet: “great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! While I am not mandated to ….”

The incoming president wasn’t finished, touting his decision in a third post as an ethical one while also failing to explain who would head his business: “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 president-elect used a fourth post to declare that “legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!”

But should he leave the company in the control of his children, who are part of his transition team and could continue to advise him in the White House, conflicts still could arise.

“While it is obviously important that Trump have no dealing with the day to day operations of his empire while President, he must also take the additional step of removing himself from ownership of the businesses via a blind trust or divestment,” said Lisa Gilbert of watchdog group Public Citizen. “Only then can he truly avoid conflicts of interest.”

Before Wednesday morning, Trump and his top aides had publicly said he might not need to untangle himself from his companies because laws in that realm do not apply to the presidency.

But like his stances toward torture and the Obama administration health law, the incoming president reversed himself in a stunning and abrupt about-face. The change likely will be applauded by ethics experts and Democrats.

“This is a concern for all members of Congress, and they should put it at the top of the Republican agenda, to make sure President Trump, when he takes office, is conflict free and … does not subject him to the threat of scandal and the possibility of impeachment,” said Richard Painter, who served as an associate counsel to President George W. Bush. “There are just so many problems here.”

Though experts such as Painter, now a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, agree that presidents are not subject to all the conflict of interest rules that govern their employees, they say presidents are not above bribery laws and the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

The clause forbids officeholders, including presidents, from receiving any “present, emolument, office or title, of any kind whatever” from foreign governments. An emolument is generally defined as compensation for services, and the clause aims to stop undue influence and corruption of officials by foreign governments.

“There are a variety of conflict of interest laws that do apply and a few that don’t,” said Norm Eisen, a former special counsel to President Barack Obama for ethics and government reform.

The president cannot, for example, make money from a foreign government or a bank controlled by a foreign government, Painter said.

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.

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