President-elect Donald Trump suggested Sunday that he will not sell off his business operations to avoid conflicts of interest during his presidency. He said he will instead allow his grown children to manage them.
"My executives will run it with my children. It's a big company. It's a great company. But I'm going to have nothing to do with management," Trump told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.
Trump said recently that he will take steps to separate himself from his business operations and will announce details at a major press conference this coming Thursday. That announcement led to speculation about whether Trump planned to divest himself from his businesses by selling off his vast network of hotels, golf courses and licensing agreements.
But the comments Sunday suggest nothing has really changed since Trump first began addressing the issue during the campaign, and that Trump has no intention of selling.
"You know, when you sell real estate, that's not like going out and selling a stock. That takes a long time," Trump said.
Former government ethics officers say that by continuing to own businesses while president, Trump allows himself and his family to profit from his office and opens himself up to numerous conflicts of interest.
Trump's comments Sunday do little to address those conflicts, says Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs and strategy at Issue One, a nonprofit group dedicated to removing money from politics.
"Let's be clear: This is not divestment of foreign holdings. And it's not any kind of blind trust. The bottom line is that, with his children in charge of operations, no way meaningful firewall can exist," McGehee said.
"Rather this arrangement enables him to enrich himself and his family through his administration's policies and actions,and will be interpreted by many across the world as a signal of how to gain access and influence with his administration," she added.
Norm Eisen, visiting fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said Trump had not come close to addressing the issue.
"His children and his executives and his businesses are going to become a magnet for improper influence in the United States and around the world," Eisen said. "Quids are constantly going to be dangled, and how long will it be before a quo follows?"
During the interview Wallace pressed Trump about the conflicts of interest, noting that "foreign countries are already booking events at the Trump Hotel in D.C. You've got business operations, deals with foreign countries."
Trump replied that he has no interest in making money while in the White House.
He said he had "turned down seven deals with one big player, great player, last week because I thought it could be perceived as a conflict of interest."
"If I were going to do new deals right now, I am turning down billions of dollars of deals. I will tell you, running for president, the money I spent is peanuts compared to the money I won't make. And that's OK because this is so important. What I'm doing is so important."
When Wallace noted that allowing his children to manage the company was "the same thing," Trump replied:
"They're not making deals. And they're going to run my company. I have a lot of property and great stuff. They're going to run it. They're going to run it. Hopefully they're going to run it properly. I'm sure they're going to run it properly. But I'm not going to do deals. And I think, you know, I think that's going to be good."
But Eisen said that arrangement would not resolve conflicts, unless Trump signs over everything to an independent trustee immediately.
"Although it is of course important that Mr. Trump have no involvement in Trump business operations, in order to avoid conflicts, he must also exit the ownership of his businesses through using a blind trust or equivalent. Otherwise he will have a personal financial interest in his businesses that will sometimes conflict with the public interest, and constantly raise questions and legal issues," Eisen said.
"For example, unless he divests ownership, he will have an interest in the foreign government payments and benefits that flow to his businesses daily," he said. "That creates such a serious conflict of interest that the framers of the constitution prohibited it for the president in the emoluments clause. Far smaller potential conflicts led every president for four decades to do a blind trust or the equivalent, and so should Trump."
When Wallace pointed out that Trump had "hammered" his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, over "pay to play" conflicts involving the Clinton Foundation, Trump insisted the two situations were different.
"She's taken in massive amounts of money from foreign countries and other things," he said.