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Trump says he's leaving businesses 'in total' to avoid conflicts of interest

President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence pause for photographs as they arrive at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. [Associated Press]

President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence pause for photographs as they arrive at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. [Associated Press]

President-elect Donald J. Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that he would soon leave his "great business in total" to focus on the presidency, a response to growing worries over the businessman-in-chief's conflicts of interest around the globe.

The surprise announcement marks a turn from Trump's months-long refusal to distance himself from his private business while holding public office.

But it remained unclear whether the new arrangement would include a full sale of Trump's stake or, as he has offered before, a ceding of company management to his children, which ethics advisors have said would not resolve worries that the business could still influence his decisions in the Oval Office.

"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 great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!" Trump tweeted.

"While I am not mandated to 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. Hence, legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!"

Most modern presidents have agreed to sell or sequester their assets in a "blind trust," led by an independent manager with supreme control, in order to keep past business deals, investments and relationships from influencing their White House term.

Trump previously said that he'd leave his business operations to his three eldest children — Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka.

Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday the three are expected to "increase their responsibilities" in the organization.

Asked if the tweets indicated plans to move the businesses to the children, Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday, "it appears that way."

Reince Priebus, Trump's incoming White House chief of staff, was vague Wednesday in describing how the president-elect planned to separate himself from his businesses, saying "that'll all be worked out."

Priebus told MSNBC that Trump has "got the best people in America working on it." Priebus demurred when asked if Trump planned to put his businesses in a blind trust — as presidents have traditionally done — or leave them in his children's hands.

"I'm not ready to reveal that really," Priebus said.

Priebus added that Trump's business acumen and the many interests he has as a result of it are "nothing to be ashamed about." He said the country hasn't seen a president with such business holdings before and the rules and regulations "don't contemplate this scenario."

Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, said the announcement did not appear to offer enough of a division to keep entanglement worries at bay.

"That's business operations, not ownership. The problem is, we need to resolve the conflicts of interest that arise from his ownership. And we're hearing nothing about how that's getting resolved," Painter said.

"Even if he does not operate the businesses, you're going to have lots of people working for the business running around the world trying to cut deals," Painter added. "And it's critical that none of those people discuss U.S. business in a way that could be interpreted, or misinterpreted, of offering quid pro quo ... or soliciting a bribe on the part of the president."

Trump's sprawling business empire is unprecedented for a modern sitting president, as is the complexity and opaqueness of his financial holdings. He refused to release his taxes during the campaign, citing an ongoing audit, and will be under no legal obligation to do so in the White House.

Trump owns golf clubs, office towers and other properties in several countries. He holds ownership stakes in more than 500 companies. He has struck licensing deals for use of his name on hotels and other buildings around the world and has been landing new business in the Middle East, India and South America.

Eric Trump demurred Wednesday when asked for details on how his father would separate himself from his businesses, saying: "You'll hear soon enough."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Trump says he's leaving businesses 'in total' to avoid conflicts of interest 11/30/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2016 3:28pm]
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