Tuesday 24 April 2018

Trump signals intent to quit business

Kellyanne Conway, adviser to the Trump transition team, walks with former US vice- president Dan Quayle at Trump Tower in New York. Photo: Mike Segar
Kellyanne Conway, adviser to the Trump transition team, walks with former US vice- president Dan Quayle at Trump Tower in New York. Photo: Mike Segar

Andrew Buncombe

Another tweet storm from Donald Trump, and the US - and indeed, the rest of world - is once again uncertain what the president-elect precisely means.

Early yesterday, Mr Trump tweeted that, under intense pressure from opponents and supporters alike, he is "leaving my great business in order to fully focus on running the country in order to make America great again".

Yet Mr Trump said he would not be announcing the details of the legal process that will "take me completely out of business operations" until December 15. Nor was it clear whether Mr Trump's adult children, including Donald Trump Jr and Ivanka, will remain at the helm of the multinational operation, while remaining a phone call away from their father as he focuses on running the country.

Ever since Mr Trump become president-elect, people have raised questions about the potential conflict of interest between Mr Trump's business interests and his running of the US.

At the weekend, CNN said that in most recent financial disclosures, Mr Trump listed 144 individual companies that have had dealings in at least 25 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, South America and North America, among other companies with regional international interests.

The interests range from management deals with golf courses in the UAE, branding agreements with real estate projects that bear Mr Trump's name in India, as well as companies that have been involved with beverage sales in Israel.

The network said that some of those dealings have already become a focal point of controversy, such as Trump Towers Istanbul, which received criticism from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after Mr Trump proposed a ban on Muslims entering the US.

During the campaign, Mr Trump and his supporters suggested that his children would continue to run the business empire, while their father ran the Oval Office. But that falls short of the blind trust that many have suggested Mr Trump should establish to defend himself from accusations of impropriety.

Conservative voices, such as the 'Wall Street Journal', have suggested Mr Trump liquidate all his assets and place them in a genuine blind trust. It said it would benefit both him and the country.

"One reason 60 million voters elected Donald Trump is because he promised to change Washington's culture of self-dealing, and if he wants to succeed he's going to have to make a sacrifice and lead by example," the paper said in an editorial.

Yet in an interview with the 'New York Times', Mr Trump claimed - in a view supported by my constitutional experts - that "the law's totally on my side" when it comes to questions about conflict of interest and ethics laws.

"The president can't have a conflict of interest," he said.

He said it would be extremely difficult to sell off his businesses because they were real estate holdings. He said that he would "like to do something" and create some kind of arrangement to separate his businesses from his work in government.

Yesterday as news of Mr Trump's announcement spread, many were quick to question whether his plan would meet the ethical standard demanded by the public to avoid a conflict of interest.

David Frum, a well-known conservative commentator and a former speech writer for president George W Bush, said: "Business operations isn't the test - but everybody knew that already.

"The test is: will Trump on December 15 remove the large existing incentives to try to bribe the president and his family?"

Yet it seems that Mr Trump may force the country to wait two weeks before providing any more details.

"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 businesses.

"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."

In other news yesterday the director of the CIA warned Mr Trump it would be "disastrous" to tear up the US's nuclear deal with Iran, after the president-elect pledged to do so during his successful election campaign.

John Brennan said abandoning the deal, which was signed by President Barack Obama in 2015 after years of negotiations, would make nuclear proliferation in the Middle East more likely.

Speaking to the BBC in the first foreign media interview by a CIA director, Mr Brennan said: "It would be the height of folly if the next administration were to tear up that agreement.

"It could lead to a weapons programme inside of Iran that could lead other states in the region to embark on their own programmes."

Mr Brennan will step down after four years as CIA director in January, just as Mr Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president.

And after repeated accusations that Russia was involved in influencing the course of the election, Mr Brennan warned Mr Trump to be wary of "promises" coming from Moscow.

He said he could not comment on the impact of Russian state-sponsored hacking and releasing of information during the race for the White House, when Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party were repeatedly targeted.

But he did confirm that Russia tried to carry out such activity.

Mr Trump has repeatedly said he will seek a better working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I hope there is going to be an improvement in relations between Washington and Moscow," Mr Brennan said. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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