President-elect Donald Trump is pulling the plug on his charitable foundation after months of controversy over how it raised cash and how it gave it out. As calls mount for Trump to do something about all the potential conflicts of interest that will accompany him to the White House, the president-elect said the Donald J. Trump Foundation would cease to exist, although he did not give a timeline for shutting it down. “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,” the president-elect said in a statement.
Trump said he has ordered his lawyers to come up with a plan to close down the foundation. But it doesn’t seem the move will be easy—or quick. The foundation is currently under investigation by the New York attorney general and won’t be able to close its doors until that has been completed. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had already ordered the foundation stop taking money because it violated state law.
Trump’s charitable foundation has been at the center of several controversies during the campaign in large part due to a series of stories by the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold that detailed the organization’s sketchy practices. Even though it has Trump’s name, the foundation largely collects money from other people and hands it out to other charities. In fact, between 2009 and 2014 Trump didn’t give any of his own cash to the foundation. But Trump did seem to benefit from its actions, including the apparent use of foundation money to settle legal disputes.
As leader of the free world though, it seems Trump has decided he won’t have time for the foundation that has no paid employees and a board of five people, including Trump and three of his children. In the statement by his transition team, Trump is quoted as saying:
“I am very proud of the money that has been raised for many organizations in need, and I am also very proud of the fact that the Foundation has operated at essentially no cost for decades, with 100% of the money going to charity, but because I will be devoting so much time and energy to the Presidency and solving the many problems facing our country and the world, I don’t want to allow good work to be associated with a possible conflict of interest.”
Democrats immediately criticized Trump’s Christmas Eve announcement, saying the effort amounted to “a wilted fig leaf to cover up his remaining conflicts of interest and his pitiful record of charitable giving.” The foundation is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Trump’s conflicts. “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,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Eric Walker said. “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.”
The announcement of the foundation’s closure came at a time when the president-elect and his family and aides appear to be taking concrete steps to get rid of some of the myriad of conflicts of interest that will accompany him to the White House even as Trump continues to insist there really is no conflict. Eric Trump, for example, said last week he would no longer fundraise for his own charity. Trump’s company is also calling off international projects and the president-elect is examining whether to hire an outside monitor to oversee the Trump Organization. “Even with these steps, Mr. Trump will enter the White House with a maze of financial holdings unlike those of any other president in American history,” notes the New York Times.
Many have said the only way Trump can fully get rid of the appearance of conflict is to liquidate his company and put the cash from that liquidation into a blind trust. “He is headed in the right direction, but he has to reach the right destination, which is to divest of everything,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and has called for an investigation into Trump’s potential conflicts of interest. “The presidency is probably the most difficult job in the world. Why would you want almost every decision you make to be questioned? You have more than 111 companies operating in 18 countries. That is a minefield, and sadly it will take away from his credibility.”