POLITICS
01/23/2017 08:09 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2017

Trump Letter Resigning From Hundreds Of Companies Seems Like A Big Deal. It Isn't.

He retained his ownership shares, so nothing really changed.

President Donald Trump has signed a letter resigning from hundreds of corporate entities in which he was an officer or a director, a move that ethics watchdogs said does nothing to alleviate their concerns about Trump’s businesses.

“I, Donald J. Trump, hereby resign from each and every office and position I hold in the entities listed on Exhibit A hereto,” Trump wrote in a letter, dated Jan. 19, that his company provided to CNN on Monday. “My resignation shall be effective immediately.” The letter reportedly went on to list the names of hundreds of companies that together make up the Trump Organization.

But government ethics experts said that resigning from operational duties at his companies fails to ease, much less eliminate, the ongoing conflicts between Trump’s majority ownership of the multibillion-dollar organization and his duties as president of the United States.

“Everyone assumed he would resign, because being president is a full-time job,” said Jordan Libowitz of the Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “The problem stems from his ownership, not his management or his involvement with the companies. It has to do with the payments he’s getting from these companies and that he’s still making money from them.”

The Huffington Post has requested a copy of the resignation letter from the Trump Organization, but has yet to receive one.

The letter is the latest chapter in Trump’s tortuous effort to satisfy public pressure to separate himself from his business without actually selling his stake in any of its projects.

Earlier this month, Trump’s lawyer said the president would place his interest in the Trump Organization into a trust, transfer control of the hotels and other real estate to his two eldest sons, and stop discussing the details of the company’s operations with them. But a self-imposed firewall between the president and his sons will be impossible to verify, meaning that Trump is essentially asking the public to take him at his word that he’s not talking to his sons about the company. 

On Monday, the Trump Organization touted the beginning of a “new era.”

There were also scattered signs Monday that Trump was completing other paperwork required to separate himself from certain of his businesses. In Florida, a corporate filing dated Jan. 23 officially transferred control of Trump International Hotels Management LLC to Trump’s son Eric. Another document showed Trump stepping down as a director of Trump International Golf Club Scotland Limited, effective Jan. 20.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that he “can’t have a conflict” of interest as president. That’s a hyper-legalistic argument. U.S. presidents aren’t required to sell off their business assets before taking office and they can’t be prosecuted for making decisions that affect companies in which they’ve invested, like most other government employees can.

But doesn’t mean Trump can’t have a conflict. Or that Americans can’t worry that their president’s business interests will influence his judgment.

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