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Trump says he'll turn over company to sons but falls short of eliminating ethics issues

Joseph Tanfani, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

President-elect Donald Trump, under fire for his business conflicts, said Wednesday that he will turn his company over to his sons -- but he won't sell his network of properties and deals.

Trump will create a trust and turn it over to his sons Donald Jr. and Eric along with another business executive, Trump lawyer Sheri Dillon said during an often-raucous New York news conference. Trump will have no role in running the Trump Organization, which will avoid any new foreign deals while Trump is in office, she said. New U.S. deals will be permitted, with written approval from a new ethics adviser who will work for the company.

With more than 500 corporations, huge debts and real estate projects all over the world, Trump's business represents unprecedented potential conflicts with his duties as president. Ethics experts have insisted that Trump should sell all his holdings and place the proceeds in a blind trust. Handing over control to his sons would not meet the standards of a blind trust, according to the Office of Government Ethics.

The arrangement "falls far short of what's necessary to avoid conflicts of interest," said Paul Ryan, a lawyer with the watchdog group Common Cause.

"The American public must now demand complete transparency of the Trump Organization and President-elect Trump's finances," he said.

But Trump again dismissed suggestions that the American public cared about potential business conflicts, and said he had no plans to release his tax returns, which would provide some transparency about his dealings.

"The only ones who care about the tax returns are the reporters," Trump said. "I won. No, I don't think they care at all."

Dillon said it would be impractical for the Trump Organization to sell off properties like Trump Tower and the Mar-a-Lago resort or to unload the dozens of deals in which Trump gets paid a licensing fee for his name.

That would "greatly diminish the value of assets and create a fire sale," she said. "President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built."

She also said that selling the assets would exacerbate conflicts, not cure them. The sons would have to take on huge debts, raising questions about the terms of the loans and whether the lenders were trying to curry favor with Trump.

She said Trump will resign from all positions with his corporations and not get any information about how individual properties are doing -- just a general profit and loss statement.

The Constitution prohibits U.S. officials from getting payments from foreign powers, in what's known as its emoluments clause. Dillon said Trump will donate any profits from foreign governments to the treasury.

Trump himself noted that there is nothing in the law that says he cannot continue to run his company because conflict-of-interest laws don't apply to the president. "I don't like the way that looks, but I could do it if I wanted to," he said.

Amid a storm of questions about his ties to Russia, Trump insisted he had no business dealings there.

"I have no deals in Russia, I have no deals that could happen with Russia and I have no loans in Russia," Trump said. "We could make deals in Russia very easily. I just don't want to, because I think that would be a conflict."

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