What Happens to Trump's Businesses After He Takes Office?

His sprawling business empire includes more than 500 companies.

ByABC News
November 11, 2016, 12:43 PM

— -- President-elect Donald Trump’s sprawling business empire – comprised of more than 500 companies around the globe, including more than 250 bearing his name – make him potentially susceptible to significant conflicts of interest.

Already, his presidential transition website plugs a dozen of his most popular properties, including Trump Tower in New York, his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, his Turnberry Golf Club in Scotland, and the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., which is leased from the federal government.

This "suggests there will be no serious efforts to separate his business interest from his governmental duties," former election official and political law attorney Kenneth Gross told ABC News, adding, "it is too early to tell."

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed that if elected, he’d “sever connections” with his businesses and turn them over to his children to run.

“I won’t discuss it with them,” he insisted this fall. “It’s just so unimportant compared to what we’re doing about making America great again. I just wouldn’t care.”

That strategy “does nothing” to mitigate potential conflicts-of-interest, according to Gross.

Making matters even more complex, Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka Trump have all been named to the executive committee of their father's presidential transition team.

Moreover, Trump would still have an insider's knowledge of what policies would and would not benefit his companies.

“Yeah, it’ll free up his time to be president,” Gross told ABC News, but “you don’t suddenly get amnesia and forget that you owned them.”

U.S. presidents generally take steps to avoid the appearance of impropriety, but legally, there’s nothing that would force Trump to distance himself from his businesses. Presidents and their VPs are not bound by many of the ethics laws that govern their cabinets and other executive branch officials.

Dick Cheney, George W. Bush's vice president, however, faced severe criticism over his continued involvement with his energy company Halliburton, which was awarded contracts during the war in Iraq.

“The powers of the presidency are so vast, both domestically and internationally, that it would be impossible – or very difficult – to apply them,” Gross pointed out. “[The president] is exempt from the ethics laws that the rest of his administration are subject to."

Many of Trump’s companies are “quite illiquid” and may be difficult to sell in the next 70 days. Right now, Trump should focus on unloading his most troublesome assets, like those doing business in countries with which the U.S. has tenuous relations, Gross said. And if he can’t sell the businesses, there’s no way he can blind himself to their interests, especially when his kids remain involved.

When it comes to Trump's business interests abroad, "the appearance is that a foreign government or other foreign organization has influence over the president of the United States through financial dealings with his family would be unacceptable," according to University of Minnesota law professor and former Bush ethics adviser Richard Painter.

Asked about these potential conflicts of interest, Trump's daughter Ivanka told ABC's Amy Robach in September that she and her brothers will "act incredibly responsibly" to avoid them.

“As a private business, we can say, ‘You know what, we’re going to do less deals. We’re not going to do that deal ... because it could create a conflict of interest,’" she said.

Despite the “hand-wringing” that will come if Trump decides not to divest, Gross said the consequences to Trump will be “only political."

ABC News' Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.

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