Donald Trump intends to close his charitable foundation to reduce the number of potential conflicts of interest he faces, as the New York property mogul prepares for his inauguration on January 20 as the 45th president of the US.
In a statement released on Christmas Eve, Mr Trump said he had instructed his lawyers to dissolve the charity without providing details on timing. The president-elect has faced considerable scrutiny over his charitable foundation and his business empire, with critics demanding that he sell off his businesses to completely eradicate any possibility of conflict of interest.
“The foundation has done enormous good works over the years in contributing millions of dollars to countless worthy groups, including supporting veterans, law enforcement officers and children,” Mr Trump said. “However, to avoid even the appearance of any conflict with my role as president I have decided to continue to pursue my strong interest in philanthropy in other ways.”
Mr Trump has faced criticism over the foundation following critical stories by the Washington Post, which discovered problems, including a lack of evidence of much charitable giving. The foundation also acknowledged breaking Internal Revenue Service rules by engaging in “self-dealing” – a revelation that came after the Washington Post reported that some money had been used to settle business lawsuits.
The New York attorney-general also banned the foundation from taking donations in the state because it had failed to register properly and to file audited accounts, and is continuing an investigation into the charity. It remained unclear on Saturday how that investigation would impact the timing of the closing of the foundation.
While dissolving the foundation would remove one possible conflict of interest, Mr Trump has not explained what he will do with his business empire, beyond saying that his two adult sons will run it. His daughter Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, are expected to move to Washington and work inside the White House.
Democrats have criticized Mr Trump, saying he had not taken sufficient steps to avoid broader conflicts of interest.
“There is something richly symbolic about Donald Trump choosing Christmas Eve to shutter the one part of his financial empire that could in theory have a positive impact on people’s lives, if it were being used in the right way,” said Eric Walker, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. “He still has not taken any concrete steps to divest from his business, which currently allows him to profit off of the presidency while leaving him susceptible to foreign influence. Shuttering a charity is no substitute for divesting from his for-profit business and putting the assets in a blind trust – the only way to guarantee separation between the Trump administration and the Trump business.”
Mr Trump had pledged to hold a press conference earlier this month to explain what he would do with his businesses, but the event was postponed with little explanation. Earlier this month, Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, suggested that Congress should review its rules on conflict.
“We’ve never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don’t work,” said Mr Gingrich.
While cabinet members must comply with rules to prevent conflict of interest, the president is not under the same obligation – something that Mr Trump himself has argued. But ethics experts say he could face problems over an obscure clause in the constitution designed to prevent bribery of government officials by foreign parties.
The clause says that no government official can “accept of any present, emolument, office or title, or any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state” without congressional consent. Some critics say that a foreign diplomat booking a room at Mr Trump’s new hotel in Washington might put him in contravention of the law.
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