President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday that he's leaving his business empire to focus on being the nation's 45th president, bowing to pressure to avoid potential conflicts of interest between governing and profiting in the private sector.
"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," he tweeted in a series of missives sent before dawn. "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."
He said legal documents are "being crafted which take me completely out of business operations," he added, saying the presidency is "a far more important task!"
He says he'll hold a news conference with his children on the subject on Dec. 15. It's been 126 days since his last formal news conference.
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Trump's announcement comes two days after 17 Democratic members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee called on the panel’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), to “begin reviewing [Trump’s] financial arrangements in order to identify and protect against conflicts of interest."
The letter asked Chaffetz to request copies of Trump’s income tax returns, which Trump has refused to release, and to invite Trump aides to brief lawmakers on “their plans for protecting against conflicts of interest.”
"The relevant question is whether he will follow the model set by his predecessors to mitigate these conflicts by liquidating his assets and placing them in a blind trust," the letter said. "If he refuses, then Congress must fulfill our own responsibilities by closely examining the Constitutional and statutory provisions that govern Mr. Trump’s actions, determining whether his approach meets these standards, and proposing appropriate reforms to address any problems we identify."
The New York Times published an article over the weekend referencing Trump's business interests in at least 20 countries, focusing on potential conflicts of interest in Brazil, India, Turkey, the Philippines, Ireland and Scotland.
Chaffetz said Tuesday the Democrats' concerns were premature.
“We’re going to do vigorous oversight, but it doesn’t mean that we’re going to start an investigation for somebody who hasn’t even taken office yet,” Chaffetz said, according to The Hill.
In an interview with Politico Wednesday, Chaffetz welcomed Trump's pledge via Twitter that he'll be handing over his businesses.
"He's moving in the right direction. And he needs to instill the confidence that he's more than arm's length away," said Chaffetz.
The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal has called for Trump to liquidate his stake in the Trump Organization and Republican speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote in the newspaper last week that Trump "can’t help the family business as president. He can’t help his children make a living as president.” Both advocated for the move in part because it will be a constant source of controversy from Democrats and the press.
Asked about Trump's announcement on separating himself from his business empire, Reince Priebus, Trump's incoming White House chief of staff, said Wednesday "that'll all be worked out."
Priebus said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," that "he's got the best people in America working on it." Priebus demurred when asked if Trump planned to put his businesses in a blind trust or leave them in the hands of his adult children.
"I'm, not ready to reveal that really," he said.
Priebus added that Trump's business acumen and the many business interests he has as a result of it is "nothing to be ashamed about." He said Trump is "taking seriously" the issue of possible conflicts of interest.
"We're making sure that all those conflicts are taken care of," Priebus said. He said the applicable rules and regulations "are very vague" and that's Trump's people are "doing the best job we can."
Priebus said the country hasn't seen a president of such business acumen before and that the rules and regulations "don't contemplate this scenario."
The Office of Government Ethics on Wednesday applauded Trump's announcement in a flurry of nine tweets, while ignoring the fact that it lacked details.
"We can't repeat enough how good this total divestiture will be," one message said.
"Brilliant! Divestiture is good for you, very good for America!" it went on to add.
OGE later released a statement to clarify its tweets.
"Like everyone else, we were excited this morning to read the President-elect's twitter feed indicating that he wants to be free of conflicts of interest," OGE Spokesperson Seth Jaffe said in a statement.
Trump had been under criticism for exposing himself to potential conflicts if he kept a role in his global business while being president. He has insisted he will build a wall between his White House and his company by placing his holdings into a blind trust, with his children as its trustees. Federal requirements are that independent outsiders run such trusts.
"We are in the process of vetting various structures with the goal of the immediate transfer of management of The Trump Organization and its portfolio of businesses to Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump as well as a team of highly skilled executives," Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said earlier this month. She said the structure "will comply with all applicable rules and regulations."
Trump's children have been heavily involved in shaping the new administration. They've sat in on meetings and taken late night calls from their father. They advocated for making Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, the White House chief of staff. They counseled against bringing back Corey Lewandowski, Trump's first campaign manager, who was fired in June on their advice.
Trump's company would be the largest business portfolio to belong to a modern sitting president. Federal ethics rules would allow Trump to run his business interests from the White House, or, perhaps more likely, influence decisions made by his children.
That raises conflict of interest concerns. For example, Trump could set domestic policy while making deals abroad that could affect his corporation, even if it were technically in his children's hands.
Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser, has disputed the idea that the Trump children's involvement in the transition could lead to a breach of trust.
"You're presuming that they are doing certain things that they should not be doing," Conway said. "They are his children. And they've been his business colleagues for a long period of time. They obviously will support their father as president."
Congress passed an anti-nepotism law in 1967 that prohibits the president from appointing a family member to work in the office or agency they oversee. The measure was passed as a reaction to President John F. Kennedy appointing his brother Robert as attorney general.
But the law does not appear to prevent the children - or Kushner, who is one of Trump's closest aides and is said to be weighing a White House role - from serving as unpaid advisers or providing informal counsel.