President-elect Donald Trump is postponing until next month a previously announced news conference to outline how he’ll handle his far-flung business operations while in the White House, according to senior Trump transition officials.
Trump had planned to make the announcement Dec. 15 but wants more time because he’s been occupied with filling out his cabinet and top administration posts, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. He’s preparing to reveal his choice for secretary of state as soon as Tuesday, they said.
The president-elect has consulted various legal specialists as well as Don McGahn, his pick for White House counsel, about how to deal with his organization, the officials said. A new date for the announcement hasn’t been set, but it will be before his inauguration on Jan. 20, they said.
Trump has about $3.6 billion of assets and $630 million of debt held in more than 500 companies, according to a July analysis by Bloomberg. His golf developments, tenant rosters, loans and licensing arrangements tie him to businesses and governments in 20 countries. Those ties risk hobbling his presidency with questions about motives for his policy and may raise constitutional issues.
His businesses have been the subject of bipartisan concern since winning the election, and on Nov. 30 he said via Twitter that he would have a news conference Dec. 15 to announce his plans for dealing with potential conflicts of interest.
The president-elect tweeted that he would be leaving his business “in total” to focus on the White House. He added that “legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations,” suggesting he might not be participating in day-to-day to decisions but also didn’t necessarily suggest he was planning a sale.
Among those who’ve called on him to sell his companies to avoid conflicts are the ethics lawyers for the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. Trump’s refusal to release his tax return has also fueled concerns about his commitment to transparency. His next personal financial disclosure, a less detailed document, isn’t due until after he takes office.
Trump said in an interview with the New York Times last month that sitting presidents “can’t have a conflict of interest” because the laws don’t apply. While they are exempt from many government ethics laws, some do apply, as does a constitutional prohibition on income and gifts from foreign governments.
Already, Trump’s daughter Ivanka sat in on her father’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and participated in a phone call with Argentine President Mauricio Macri. Trump has also met with Indian business partners since Election Day, and his partner in the Philippines was in Trump Tower while he was talking with potential appointees. The lease for his hotel in Washington appears to bar elected officials from profiting from the arrangement.
Even transferring ownership to his children is unlikely to quiet Trump’s critics. Norman Ornstein, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy group in Washington, has said that Trump has a self-interest in enriching his children. Brad Malt, a partner at Ropes & Gray LLP in Boston, who managed Mitt Romney’s blind trusts during his time as Massachusetts governor, has said that Trump must sell.
Trump’s transition team said Dec. 6 that the president-elect had had sold all his stock holdings in June, though it gave no details. Trump said the stock ownership was “a conflict of interest.”
Previous U.S. presidents and vice presidents have also grappled with how to deal with potential conflicts. Dick Cheney sold his shares in Halliburton Co., where he’d served as chairman and chief executive officer, prior to taking office. Jimmy Carter sold his family peanut farm in Georgia. Nelson Rockefeller subjected himself to congressional hearings and to investigation by 400 agents from agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service.
A Bloomberg National Poll conducted Dec. 2-5 found that two-thirds of U.S. adults think Trump needs to choose between being president or a businessman. But slightly more -- 69 percent -- believe it goes too far to force him and his family to sell their business empire to avoid conflicts of interest.
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