Nation's First "For-Profit President" as Trump Refuses To Divest
Trump holds first post-election presser, confirming plans to hand over control of corporate empire to sons
President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday gave his first press conference since the November election—indeed, since July—but gave little information on his relationship with Russia and outlined a plan to address his conflicts of interest that at least one government watchdog group called a "failure on all levels."
Trump said he would not divest his business holdings before taking office, but confirmed that he would hand the reins of his corporate empire and a trust containing his assets over to his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, as well as an appointed trustee, for the duration of his term. That comes shortly after the sons, and daughter Ivanka, were widely criticized for their continued attempts to sell off access to the president and the First Family.
So any proposal that lets them keep their hands in the coffer, leaders of the watchdog group Public Citizen warned Wednesday, is an ethical failure.
"There is only one way to avoid the conflicts of interest that will engulf his presidency and America: He must sell the family business," Weissman said. "Unfortunately, President-elect Trump has today declined to take this simple step. The measures he plans to put in place will do nothing to solve the most serious conflict problems."
Trump "has failed his ethics test," Weissman said. "Now, America will suffer the consequences."
Watch the full press conference below:
Lawmakers have been strongly urging Trump to divest his business assets. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) last month introduced legislation that would force him to do so—but with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, the bill is not expected to get very far.
And advocacy groups have called on him to put his corporate finances into an independently-managed blind trust that would protect against deals or laws being made on behalf of the U.S. that would benefit the Trump family.
One of those organizations was Common Cause, whose vice president for policy and litigation Paul S. Ryan said Wednesday, "President-elect Trump's planned arrangement with the Trump Organization falls far short of what's necessary to avoid conflicts of interest and Emoluments Clause violations that will dog his administration and severely undermine the public's faith in government."
Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, continued, "Trump's announcement today fails on all levels. Hiring a trustee doesn't insulate him from knowing what he owns—this arrangement involves neither the needed divestment of his assets nor the creation of a truly blind trust to manage the proceeds. Further, his sons will remain involved with the trust and there is no such thing as a firewall at family dinners."
Weissman added, "These pervasive conflicts will affect matters from consumer protection to bankruptcy law, labor rights to tax policy, as well as foreign policy. Americans deserve a president who works for them, without regard to how policy will affect the president's own bottom line. Instead, we are on the verge of witnessing the first for-profit president."
In other moments, Trump offered journalists a tense glimpse into an antagonistic future as he shouted down CNN's Jake Acosta and called Buzzfeed a "failing pile of garbage" for publishing an unverified dossier about his relationship with Russia.
"Not you, not you," he said repeatedly as Acosta tried to ask questions about the documents, which claimed that the Kremlin had been in contact with Trump for at least five years and had blackmailed him over compromising personal information. "Your organization is terrible. I am not going to give you a question, you're fake news."
"I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out," he continued, referring to news outlets publishing the documents, as well as to a tweet he sent earlier in the day that compared U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany. "I think it's a disgrace, and I say that, and I say that, and that's something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do."
"I think it's a disgrace. That information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public. As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they're going to suffer the consequences," he said.