He won't, but he says he could.
President-elect Donald Trump held his first press conference since being elected President of the United States and wasted no time censuring media outlets that he say peddle fake news (or do they?), posturing over Russia, deflecting questions about his Cabinet and, most glaringly, laying out his formal plan toward disassociating himself from his business, Trump Organization.
The more answers that emerged, the more uneasy the feeling.
Russia. Vladimir Putin. The Evil Empire. Right? Trump assured the gatherers and media throng that he had "no dealings, no loans with Russia."
Not to say he couldn't. Section 18 U.S.C. 208—"Acts affecting a personal financial interest"—prohibits an executive branch employee from participating personally and substantially in a particular Government matter that will affect his own financial interests. This statute curiously doesn't apply to the President or Vice President.
Which President-elect Trump reminded the America public about, while simultaneously showing off his prowess as an investor and developer. "We could make deals easily, but don't want to as a conflict."
Hard to Say No
In fact, Trump said he walked away from a $2-billion deal over the weekend. That's a costly pill to swallow. The deal, he said, was with his friend and overall "great guy" Hussain Ali Sajwani, the executive chairman, CEO and founder of Dubai-based property developer DAMAC.
"I turned it down," Trump said, but with this qualification: "I didn't have to because I have no conflict provision as President." Shockingly, Trump said he didn't know that he was afforded this arrangement until only recently. "I didn't know about it. I don't want to take advantage of it," he said.
He still couldn't seem to let the idea go, however. "I don't want to get the presidency tangled up. I could actually run my business and run the government at the same time. I don't like way it looks, but I could. I could run Trump Organization."
He says he will not. Instead, he is handing over the keys to his kingdom to his two adult sons: Don, Jr. and Eric, both already executives in the company. "They are going to be running it and are not going to discuss it with me," which seems implausible, but sure, okay, Don and Eric will never stroll into the Oval Office and let dad know how the business he built is going.
The press conference took a turn from there as Trump introduced to the podium Sheri Dillon, a partner at law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, who is the attendant to Trump's assets and responsible for putting his assets into a trust.
Dillon said all of Trump's investments and business will be conveyed to the trust prior to inauguration day January 20. She also made some riveting yet-to-be known comments.
- Trump Organization is appointing an ethics advisor (who went unnamed) and who is charged with giving written approval for new deals that could raise conflict of interest concerns.
- Ivanka Trump, who was EVP of development and acquisitions at Trump Organization, is leaving her position to settle her family in Washington, D.C., where her husband, Jared Kushner, will act as a special advisor to the President-elect.
- All pending deals have reportedly now been terminated. Thirty such deals that were set to close by 2016 were impacted—a "huge financial loss for the company," Dillon said.
- There will be "no new foreign deals to be made during the Trump presidency." Prior international hotel developments have been stripped from the Trump Hotels website. This bit of news is intriguing since it was believed that Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danizger was brought on board explicitly to deepen and expand Trump Hotels' international business, especially in Asia Pacific. This looks to now be tabled for at least the next four years.
There is much to surmise and glean from Trump's press conference:
- If President-elect Trump says unequivocally that he is renouncing his leadership role at Trump Organization, and conveying his investments to a trust, then why should Trump Organization, free from his oversight, not be able to carry on business as usual? Why can't it go out and make foreign deals?
- Who is this ethics advisor? Is he appointed by Trump or a disinterested party and does he/she report to anyone or is he/she autonomous?
- It's difficult to believe that a man like Trump has the composure and self-will to not inquire about his business and to think that he won't from time to time is, again, hard to believe.
Donald J. Trump takes the most powerful office in the world in nine days.
Video of full press conference: