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Ethics official denounces Trump's plan for business

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday he will continue to profit from his global business empire after he enters the White House this month -- a precedent-breaking decision that the director of the Office of Government Ethics swiftly condemned as unpatriotic.

At a news conference announcing a much-anticipated plan for dealing with his sprawling company, Trump and his lawyer said the Trump Organization would be run by the president-elect's adult sons and a longtime company executive, although the president-elect will retain an ownership stake in a trust that holds his business assets.

Sheri Dillon, an attorney with the firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius, said the company will pursue new deals in the U.S. but will not enter new foreign arrangements while Trump is in office.

The steps are to assure Americans that he is "not exploiting the office of the presidency for his personal benefit," she said.

The decision to stop new ventures abroad was one of Trump's few concessions to ethics experts who have warned that the real estate development and licensing company's international footprint could expose him to conflicts of interest. They have warned that foreign governments might try to curry favor with him or influence U.S. policy by cutting deals with his company and speeding approval for his projects.

The concerns have thrust a typically obscure office into the limelight. The Office of Government Ethics, which advises incoming presidents and their administration officials but is not an enforcement agency, on Wednesday urged Trump to go much further to distance himself. OGE Director Walter Shaub said Trump should sell off his businesses and put the proceeds in a blind trust overseen by an independent manager.

"I don't think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the president of the United States of America," said Shaub.

Explaining why presidential appointees, nominees and presidents themselves typically sever all business ties, Shaub said:

"Their basic patriotism usually prevails as they agree to set aside their personal interest to serve their country's interests."

Shaub praised some of Trump's Cabinet nominees for making a "clean break" from business entanglements, singling out Rex Tillerson, whose Senate confirmation hearing to become secretary of state was held Wednesday.

The president-elect and his lawyer vigorously defended his plan, saying it would be impractical for Trump to sell off his company.

Doing so, Dillon said, would create its own ethical questions about whether he was receiving a fair price. And moving too quickly could create a "fire sale" environment that devalued the company to which he has dedicated his adult life.

"President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built," Dillon said.

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