POLITICS

Donald Trump To Close Foundation To Avoid Potential Conflicts Of Interest

25/12/2016 8:50 AM AEDT | Updated 25/12/2016 10:41 AM AEDT
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President-elect Donald Trump, Melania Trump and his daughter Tiffany Trump cut the ribbon at the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, on Oct. 26.

President-elect Donald Trump will close his foundation, he announced on Saturday.

The decision is part of a series of moves that appear aimed at resolving some of the most glaring potential conflicts of interest that his business and philanthropic empire poses. But he’s still stopping short of what top ethics experts recommend, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

The businessman plans to donate the holdings of the Trump Foundation, his charity fund, and then disband it, a change first reported by the Times. The news follows a decision by his second son Eric Trump to suspend operations of his charity after a nonprofit that he and his brother Donald Trump Jr. lead received negative attention for auctioning off access to the president-elect.

“The Foundation has done enormous good works over the years in contributing millions of dollars to countless worthy groups ... However, to avoid even the appearance of any conflict with my role as President I have decided to continue to pursue my strong interest in philanthropy in other ways,” Trump said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.

Along with its donations, an investigation by The Washington Post revealed that the charity had engaged in self-dealing, something it later admitted.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been investigating whether foundation spending benefitted Trump’s campaign. Amy Spitalnik, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman, said Saturday on Twitter that the foundation “cannot legally dissolve” until the investigation concludes.

In addition, the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas announced on Wednesday that it had agreed to a four-year union contract with its workers, abruptly ending a prolonged battle to resist the union that the federal government claimed broke the law. The company and Unite Here union representing the Vegas workers also reached an organizing deal that could ease the path for unionization at the new Trump International Hotel in Washington.

As president, Trump would have the power to appoint members of the National Labor Relations Board, the very agency that ruled against his hotel’s behavior toward Unite Here. 

His company, the Trump Organization, has also announced decisions to nix construction or plans to build hotels in several foreign countries, including Brazil, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Argentina.

The president-elect continues to downplay the ethical quandaries that his business and charity holdings present, most recently protesting this month about the pressure Eric Trump felt to close his foundation. 

But the Trump Organization’s general counsel Alan Garten indicated to the Times that the series of actions, including last month’s decision to settle lawsuits against the defunct Trump University for $25 million, reflected a desire to avoid potential “distractions.”  

Trump initially intended to reveal his plans to sever ties to the Trump Organization’s operations on Dec. 15. His transition team subsequently postponed the announcement until January.

He has repeatedly stated he plans to hand over control to his adult sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.

But the notion that they would run his sprawling business operations raises questions for critics wary of their role as advisers to the president-elect. Aware of these concerns, the Trump Organization is considering bringing in a supervisor or trustee from the outside to minimize potential ethics questions related to the company’s business dealings and interactions with the government, according to the Times. 

Still, neither Trump nor his transition team have given any indication that they plan to adopt the recommendations of top presidential ethics experts that he liquidate the company and place the cash from the sale into a blind trust.

“Although it is of course important that he 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,” said Norm Eisen and Richard Painter, the ethics lawyers for President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush’s, respectively, in a Nov. 30 statement.

The full extent of Trump’s business holdings and the conflicts of interest they may present remain unknown, since he declined to release his tax returns during the presidential campaign ― a break with four decades of tradition.

His ownership of the Trump International Hotel in Washington has already drawn scrutiny as foreign governments flock to patronize it in the hopes of currying favor with the incoming administration. Kuwait even moved its national day celebration to the hotel at the last minute in response to pressure from Trump Organization officials, a source with knowledge of the matter told ThinkProgress.

This article has been updated to include a comment from Eric Schneiderman’s spokeswoman.

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