What Donald Trump's Separating From His Businesses Might Entail

It's complicated and global.

ByABC News
November 30, 2016, 6:33 PM

— -- The fate of Donald Trump's fleet of businesses — which roused critics who say he'll be potentially subject to conflicts of interest — is up in the air less than two months before the inauguration, but the real estate mogul indicated today that he will be stepping aside.

It remains to be seen, however, how effectively he will be able to distance himself and how he will be able to create a true firewall between his team and his children, should they take the reins as previously indicated.

In a series of tweets this morning, Trump said that "legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations."

"I will be leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country," he wrote in one of the tweets.

"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 continued.

Trump wrote that he will be "holding a major news conference ... with my children" to discuss the plans in mid-December.

The Office of Government Ethics in a series of tweets applauded his plan to detach himself from his businesses, though spokesman Seth Jaffe told ABC News, "We don't know the details of their plan, but we are willing and eager to help them with it."

Trump said repeatedly on the campaign trail that his children will be left in charge of the family business, but he also said he will consider putting his holdings in a blind trust, in which a business owner removes himself from operations and puts an independent individual or body in charge in order to prevent conflicts of interest. It's not clear how he plans to proceed in separating himself from the business.

In the Jan. 14 Republican primary debate, he said he would put his business in a blind trust.

"I would put it in a blind trust. Well, I don't know if it's a blind trust if Ivanka, Don and Eric run it," Trump said at the debate. "If that's a blind trust, I don't know. But I would probably have my children run it with my executives, and I wouldn't ever be involved because I wouldn't care about anything but our country, anything."

If his children take charge of the business, they may communicate with him about dealings, which could influence policy or vice versa, and if there is any communication or influence, the trust is not blind.

When Donald Trump Jr. was asked about the matter on "Good Morning America" in September, he appeared unmoved.

"A blind trust is not a blind trust if it's being run by his children," ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos told Donald Trump Jr.

"It is because he'll have nothing to do with it, George. He said that," he responded.

The Vast Trump Empire

The Trump brand is global, with the Trump Organization holding properties across the United States as well as in several foreign countries.

While the full extent of Donald Trump Sr.'s business ties are not clear, a financial disclosure form filed in July 2015 lists him as associated with hundreds of LLCs and corporations.

The form lists the approximate value of the companies, ranging from less than $201 to more than $50 million. Incomes are listed in ranges in most cases as well.

The Trump Organization has two golf courses in Dubai, two courses and matching hotels in Scotland, a course and matching hotel in Ireland, two hotels in Canada, two buildings in India and buildings in the Philippines, Uruguay, Brazil, Panama and South Africa.

PHOTO: A bagpipe player wears traditional dress next to Donald Trump and his family as they arrive to his Trump Turnberry Resort, June 24, 2016, in Ayr, Scotland.
A bagpipe player wears traditional dress next to Donald Trump and his family as they arrive to his Trump Turnberry Resort, June 24, 2016, in Ayr, Scotland.

The Trump name is also attached to 12 golf courses in seven states in the U.S., and his realty company has listings in four states and hotels in six states plus its latest hotel in Washington D.C., which opened during the campaign.

However, Trump was the first presidential candidate in decades to not release his tax returns, so his precise income, assets and liabilities remain unknown. He has said he could not release his returns because they are under audit.

What Divestiture Would Entail

In an interview with The New York Times after the election, Trump said, "The law is totally on my side, meaning the president can't have a conflict of interest ... Despite that, I don’t want there to be a conflict of interest anyway."

His assessment of the law is not entirely wrong. The president is exempt from prosecution under certain federal statutes that bar conflicts of interest, but laws against bribery, nepotism and using public office for personal financial gain still apply.

Paul Rothstein, a professor at Georgetown University Law School, said that presidents are not bound by conflict of interest laws that apply to other government officials.

"He is exempt from such laws because the thought apparently was that if the people trust a person enough to elect him president, he can be trusted with this," he told ABC News.

"He is bound by the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which says he cannot get financial benefit from foreign powers, and I can see that coming into play with some of his foreign investments," Rothstein said.

While Congress could launch investigations into perceived improprieties and launch impeachment proceedings if the situation is grave enough, there is no body specifically tasked with keeping watch for any misdeeds.

"Public opinion is the only policeman when it comes to conflicts of interest," said Matthew Sanderson, a Republican lawyer with the law firm Caplin & Drysdale.

He said that if Trump opts to put the Trump Organization into a blind trust, the process could take up to a year.

"He can sell some of his assets off to third parties and then sell the remaining core business to his children. He would place the proceeds of these sales into a trust and then appoint an independent individual as a trustee to be a steward over the funds, which is the component that makes the trust blind and prevents conflicts of interest that could otherwise drag down his presidency," Sanderson told ABC.

There are several other steps that would have to be taken, he said, including issuing orders to stop anyone in the White House from treating his former business holdings differently from any others and enacting a "firewall policy that would prohibit him and his White House staff from discussing business matters with anyone running his former businesses and then keep his children out of any formal [or] informal adviser positions, since they would be running the business."

ABC News' Taylor Dunn contributed to this report.

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