President-elect Donald Trump responded to renewed controversy surrounding his business ties in a Tuesday interview with The New York Times, insisting “the president can’t have a conflict of interest” as he faces scrutiny over a series of questionable interactions.
Tweets from Times reporters Maggie Haberman and Mike Grynbaum, who were part of the interview, showed that Trump understood how his business ties could be perceived.
“The law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest,” he said, later adding, “My company’s so unimportant to me relative to what I’m doing.”
Still, Trump said “in theory” he could continue signing checks at his company, but he is “phasing that out now” and passing control of his company to his adult children.
“In theory I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly,” he said, adding that “there’s never been a case like this” involving the presidency.
“I’d assumed that you’d have to set up some type of trust or whatever and you don’t,” he later said. “I would like to do something.”
Asked if he would just simply sell his holdings, he said it would be a “really hard thing to do, because I have real estate.”
Questions about Trump’s ability to separate his business ties from the presidency have arisen in recent days. His daughter, Ivanka, who stands to be a leader in taking over his company, sat through a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week and was on a congratulatory phone call between the president-elect and Argentine President Mauricio Macri.
“If it were up to some people, I would never, ever see my daughter Ivanka again,” Trump said.
Trump also met last week in his Trump Tower office with three Indian business partners who are building a Trump-branded apartment complex near Mumbai, The New York Times reported.
The three men posed with Trump in a picture posted to Twitter, and a spokeswoman for the Trump Organisation described the meeting as a courtesy call from the three executives.
“It was not a formal meeting of any kind,” Breanna Butler, the spokeswoman, told The Times.
In a text message exchange with The Times, one of the three businessmen said a report in an Indian newspaper about another partner discussing a desire to expand the deals with Trump’s family was accurate.
Butler said the president-elect would not be involved in the day-to-day dealings of the Trump Organisation, while another spokeswoman added that “the structure that is ultimately selected will comply with all applicable rules and regulations.”
At various points along the campaign trail, the president-elect said his business would be controlled by his children in what he said was a “blind trust,” even though that constitutes an independent manager, typically not someone as closely tied to the holder as his children.
Ivanka’s presence in the meeting and on the phone call only appeared to further blur the lines between the business empire and the upcoming Trump presidency.
According to a Sunday Washington Post story, at least 111 separate Trump companies have conducted business in 18 countries across South America, the Middle East, and Asia. Pointing specifically to a Trump Towers project in Istanbul, something that Trump at one point said could present “a little conflict of interest,” The Post wrote that “policy and ethics experts are scrambling to assess the potential dangers of public rule by a leader with a vast web of private business deals.”
The biggest legal risk Trump faces as a result of his business ties is a passage in the Constitution known as the emoluments clause, which forbids government officials from receiving gifts from a foreign government.
As The Post reported, a payment from a foreign official or state-owned company to a Trump hotel or other company bearing his name could potentially violate the clause. So could favourable legislation or treatment overseas from a government aimed at benefiting a Trump property.