Five Business-Related Issues Trump Did Not Address In His First Press Conference As President-Elect
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At his first press conference as president-elect, Donald Trump tried to quell conflict of interest concerns by announcing he would hand over his company's management to his sons, but many questions about his business interests remain unanswered. Here are the five biggest:
1. Potential Breach Of The Old Post Office Building Lease
Neither Trump nor his attorney — who did most of the speaking about the future of the Trump Organization — addressed what would happen with The Trump Org's lease with the General Services Administration for the Old Post Office Building, which could be breached upon him taking office.
“No ... elected official of the Government of the United States ... shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom ...," the contract states.
Since he is handing over management, but not divesting from the company and its properties, he would benefit from revenues the hotel brings in. The hotel has done plenty of business with foreign diplomats hoping to curry favor with the incoming administration since it opened last fall. The Trump Org plans to donate its hotel proceeds from foreign governments directly to the US Treasury, but it's still unclear how that would work, legally or financially.
The man whose job it is to assess how that arrangement would work, director of the non-partisan Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub, said at a Brookings Institution event Wednesday that the president-elect's plan does not avoid conflicts of interest because Trump still has knowledge and ownership of his assets.
"OGE has been left out of this process, we would have told him that this arrangement fails to meet the statutory standards," Shaub said. “Every president in modern times has taken the strong medicine of divestiture.”
2. Existing Relationships With Foreign Business Partners And Governments
Trump said the company would not make any new deals in foreign countries while he is in office, but he did not explain how he would handle existing relationships he has with influential business partners and governments of countries in which his company has holdings.
For example, Trump owns two towers in Istanbul (above), one office and one residential, with partner Mehmet Ali Yalcindag. On a phone call with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan following the election, Trump reportedly called his business partner "a good friend." Turkey plays an important role in U.S. efforts to fight the Islamic State. Trump has existing business interests in at least 20 other countries, including China, India and Saudi Arabia.
In addition to his properties abroad, some of his domestic properties present conflicts related to foreign governments. The Industrial Bank of China, wholly owned by the Chinese government, is the anchor tenant in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
3. The Hundreds Of Millions In Debt His Company Owes
Trump also did not address the hundreds of millions of dollars in debt attached to his properties, which are held by more than 150 institutions. Since Trump is not divesting from the business and could return to it following his presidency, banks that hold his debt wield power over the president-elect and the ability to threaten foreclosure if any issues arise.
His biggest creditor is thought to be the German Deutsche Bank, to which he owes more than $300M. Deutsche Bank is one of many financial institutions being investigated by the U.S. government.
4. Plans To Return To The Company After Leaving Office
Trump also implied at the end of the press conference he might resume management of the company following his presidency.
"I hope at the end of eight years, I’ll come back and say, 'oh, you did a good job,'" he said of his sons. "Otherwise, if they do a bad job, I’ll say, 'You’re fired.'"
This would mean that any profits gained by the company during his presidency would end up benefiting him in the long term, even if he places them in a trust while in office. While he plans to place his assets in a trust, his attorney said he will get information about the overall performance of his holdings.
5. When He Would Release His Tax Returns
Trump claimed he had no deals or loans involving Russia, something that cannot be independently verified unless he releases his tax returns, which would detail the extent of his business dealings in foreign countries. He said the returns were still under audit — he's claimed they're under audit since February — preventing him from releasing them.
"You know, the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters, OK?" Trump said at the press conference. "They’re the only [ones] who ask."