Trump Vows to Withdraw From Business Empire to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

Meanwhile, president-elect taps private equity investor and billionaire for key economic leadership posts, who announce Trump's plan to cut corporate tax rates.

An employee of a foreign exchange trading company works near monitors showing U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, Tokyo, Japan, November 9, 2016.
An employee of a foreign exchange trading company works near monitors showing U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, Tokyo, Japan, November 9, 2016. Toru Hanai, Reuters

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump vowed on Wednesday to step back from running his business empire to avoid conflicts of interest, while turning to Wall Street for nominees for two key economic leadership posts who promised tax reform and a tougher approach to China.

Trump sent out a series of early morning tweets saying he will hold a news conference in New York on December 15 with his children on how he will separate himself "in total" from his worldwide business holdings.

Steve Mnuchin, a private equity investor, hedge fund manager and Hollywood financier, and billionaire Wilbur Ross, who heads a private equity firm, appeared on CNBC and confirmed their nominations to be Treasury secretary and Commerce secretary, respectively. The Trump transition team announced the nominations on Wednesday morning.

Transition sources also said Trump had chosen Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts as deputy commerce secretary.

Mnuchin and Ross laid out Trump's economic objectives, including a tax reform plan that would, among other things, cut corporate tax rates to 15 percent.

"We think by cutting corporate taxes we’ll create huge economic growth and we’ll have huge personal income," Mnuchin said on CNBC.

Mnuchin and Ross said lower tax rates would be offset by reductions in the number of income tax deductions.

They said trade reform would be a top agenda item. Both men criticized regional trade pacts, saying they favor bilateral agreements with trade partners.

"We've been doing a lot of dumb trade," Ross said.

Mnuchin said the Treasury and Commerce departments have trade enforcement capabilities. With regard to China's foreign exchange policy, he said, "If we determine we need to label them as a currency manipulator that's something the Treasury would do."

Focus on secretary of state

Trump also is working to fill out his foreign policy team, with a major focus this week on who his secretary of state should be.

He dined with a former rival, 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, at a French restaurant near Central Park on Tuesday night. Romney, held in suspicion by Trump supporters because of his harsh criticism of Trump, made an impassioned statement in support of Trump after their meal.

Trump was to meet on Wednesday with another potential secretary of state pick, retired Marine General John Kelly. He also is considering former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee and former CIA Director David Petraeus for the job.

Trump also had meetings planed with Linda McMahon, a former Senate candidate in Connecticut, former Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue and U.S. Senator Dan Coats of Indiana.

A variety of critics have raised questions about how Trump would avoid a conflict of interest between the presidency and a real estate empire with properties around the world.

"I will be holding a major news conference in New York City with my children on December 15 to discuss the fact that I will be leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!" Trump said.

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."

"Hence, legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!"

Three days after Trump won the presidential election on November 8 the Trump Organization said it was looking at business structures aimed at transferring management control to Trump's three oldest children.

Clearly reluctant to give up a business that made him a brand name around the world, Trump also had previously argued that he had no need to separate himself from the Trump Organization.

But criticism has mounted. An analysis by the New York Times, published last Saturday, said Trump's companies have business operations in at least 20 countries.

The Wall Street Journal said in a November 17 editorial that Trump should liquidate his assets in order to avoid any appearance of a conflict.