Donald Trump "Visually" Responds to Conflicts of Interest Reports

President-elect Donald Trump addresses supporters as Vice President-elect Mike Pence, right, looks on at their election night rally in New York City on November 9. In the days since his victory, Trump has appeared to soften his tone on some of his most aggressive campaign promises. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump vowed on Wednesday to step back from running his global business empire to avoid conflicts of interest, as concern over his dual role mounts ahead of the Republican's inauguration on Jan. 20. Trump, a real estate magnate, wrote on Twitter he will hold a news conference in New York on Dec. 15 with his children on how he will separate himself "in total" from his worldwide business holdings.

Trump said he is not required by law to alter his relationship with his business, but added: "I feel it is visually important, as president, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses."

A brand name around the globe, Trump had previously argued that he had no need to separate himself from the Trump Organization, which owns hotels and golf resorts from Panama to Scotland, and diverse businesses like a winery and a modeling agency. Trump said on Wednesday that "legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations."

Criticism about his role has grown as he heads toward taking over the White House from President Barack Obama. The Wall Street Journal urged Trump in a Nov. 17 editorial to liquidate his assets in order to avoid any appearance of a conflict. His company had previously said his adult children would be put in charge of the business. Trump's businesswoman daughter Ivanka joined her father's telephone call with Argentine President Mauricio Macri earlier this month and attended a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, raising questions of possible conflicts of interest.

Rules on conflict of interest for executive branch employees do not apply to the president, but Trump will be bound by bribery laws, disclosure requirements and a section of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits elected officials from taking gifts from foreign governments.

Economic Jobs

Trump, a former reality TV star, has spend much of the last few weeks setting up his new cabinet and interviewing candidates for top jobs in his administration. His choice to lead the U.S. Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, said on Wednesday the administration would make tax reform and trade pact overhauls top priorities as it seeks a sustained pace of 3 percent to 4 percent economic growth. Mnuchin also signaled a desire to remove U.S. mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from government ownership, a move that could have wide-ranging ramifications for how Americans pay for their homes. The one-time Goldman Sachs banker, together with Wilbur Ross, Trump's nominee for commerce secretary, outlined Trump's economic agenda, including what Mnuchin called the largest tax overhaul since the Ronald Reagan administration, in an interview on CNBC.

The pair laid out Trump's economic objectives, including a reform that would, among other things, cut corporate tax rates to 15 percent and encourage companies to repatriate earnings held overseas back to the United States. "We think by cutting corporate taxes we'll create huge economic growth and we'll have huge personal income," Mnuchin said on CNBC. He is the first person with extensive Wall Street experience to head the Treasury Department since his former boss, Henry Paulson, the former Goldman Sachs chief executive who served under President George W. Bush and steered Treasury through the chaotic initial stages of the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

The pick was panned by regulatory watchdog groups. "If Mr. Mnuchin and President Trump de-regulate and unleash Wall Street's biggest banks as they are suggesting, then it's time to start the countdown clock to the next financial crash which will make the last one look mild by comparison," said Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, a non-profit that advocates for tougher rules for Wall Street.

Trump's spokesman defended the hire of figures associated with Wall Street for economy jobs despite his election campaign pledge to "drain the swamp" of establishment figures in government. "There's nobody else who understands the challenges that American workers and businesses face," Trump spokesman Jason Miller said.

Trump is also working to fill out his foreign policy team, but no decision appeared imminent on who the next secretary of state will be. He dined with a former rival, 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, at a French restaurant near Central Park on Tuesday night. Romney made an impassioned statement in support of Trump after their meal. Miller said the president-elect told him that "he thought the dinner went really well" and that there was good chemistry between the men although they are still getting to know each other.

Trump also met on Tuesday with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani about the top diplomatic post, a transition aide said. Another possible choice, U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, was at Trump Tower on Tuesday as well. Trump was to meet on Wednesday with another potential secretary of state pick, retired Marine General John Kelly. He also is considering former CIA Director David Petraeus for the job.