Trump has taken few steps to disentangle from private empire

Ivanka Trump, daughter of President-elect Donald Trump, departs Trump Tower on Friday in New York.
Andrew Harnik ~ Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- President-elect Donald Trump pledged to step away from his family-owned international real-estate development, property management and licensing business before taking office Jan. 20.

With less than two weeks until his inauguration, he hasn't stepped very far.

Trump has canceled a handful of international deals and dissolved a few shell companies created for prospective investments.

Still, he continues to own or control about 500 companies that make up the Trump Organization, creating a tangle of potential conflicts of interest without precedent in modern U.S. history.

The president-elect is expected to give an update on his effort to distance himself from his business at a Wednesday news conference. He said Friday he would be announcing a "very simple solution."

Ethics experts have called for Trump to sell off his assets and place his investments in a blind trust, which means something his family would not control. That's what previous presidents have done.

Trump has given no indication he will go that far. He has said he will not be involved in day-to-day company operations and will leave that duty to his adult sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr. The president-elect has not addressed the ethical minefield of whether he would retain a financial interest in his Trump Organization.

Trump has abandoned planned business ventures in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Georgia, India and Argentina. The Associated Press found he has dissolved shell companies tied to a possible business venture in Saudi Arabia.

It's unclear whether those moves are signs Trump is dismantling the web of companies that make up his business. Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten has insisted none of the closures is related to Trump's election. He calls them "normal housecleaning."

The Trump Organization still has an expanding reach across the globe: The Trump International Golf Club in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is set to open next month.

Trump has said there will be "no new deals" while he's in office. But Eric Trump, an executive vice president at the Trump Organization, told Argentinian newspapers last week the company was open to another business venture in the country.

The younger Trump did rule out expansion in Russia, at least any time soon.

"Is there a possibility sometime in the next 20, 30 years we end up in Russia? Absolutely. Is it right for us right now? Probably not," Eric Trump said in a video interview with La Nacion posted on the newspaper's website.

Asked about the potential for conflicts of interest if the business continues to operate, Eric Trump compared the separation between the Trump-led government and Trump-led company to the separation between church and state.

"These two things will be unfailingly separate," he said, adding, "we will not share functions."

Of Trump's U.S. portfolio, no venture has become more emblematic of the potential conflicts of interest facing Trump than his hotel at the Old Post Office in the nation's capital. The federal government, which he soon will oversee, holds the lease on the building he turned into a luxury hotel that opened shortly before Election Day.

The terms of Trump's contract with the government expressly prohibit elected officials from having a financial interest in the property.

Democratic senators said the General Services Administration told them the moment Trump takes office, he would violate the terms of his contract.

Neither GSA nor Trump transition officials responded to inquiries about what steps, if any, Trump has taken with regard to that contract provision.

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