President-elect Donald Trump’s spokesman said on Tuesday that Trump had sold off all his investments in the stock market more than five months ago, but the Trump transition team has yet to offer any evidence to substantiate this claim.
The statement came during the team’s daily conference call with reporters. Asked about a tweet that Trump had sent out earlier Tuesday morning accusing Boeing of overcharging for two new Air Force One planes, spokesman Jason Miller said Trump “sold all of his stock back in June.” At the time, Miller seemed to be saying that the president-elect had sold his shares in Boeing. But Miller later told at least two media outlets that Trump had sold his shares in all public companies, not just Boeing.
In his May 2016 financial disclosure report, filed with the Federal Election Commission, Trump had declared ownership of more than $20 million worth of stocks and bonds, through scores of different investment funds and family trusts. It’s unclear if Miller’s comment also applied to those bonds.
Earlier this month, Trump spokesman Hope Hicks said that in January, he had sold bonds issued by United Technologies, the parent company of Carrier Corp. ― the company with whom he struck a deal to save some 800 U.S. jobs using a $7 million state tax break and the bully pulpit. (Carrier is still planning to lay off 600 workers.) Last month, Hicks told The Washington Post that Trump in June sold the stock he owned in Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the majority of the Dakota Access pipeline project.
But the Trump transition team has yet to provide any evidence to substantiate Miller’s much broader claim, despite numerous requests from the media, including The Huffington Post. Nor did the team respond to HuffPost’s questions about what Trump did with the proceeds from the supposed sales.
If it were true, such a disinvestment would represent a step in the right direction from Trump, who is poised to take office in January saddled with more conflicts of interest, actual and potential, than any other president in American history. Sale of stocks would remove one avenue for these conflicts and could help the president-elect build public trust in his new administration.
But without any confirmation that the sales had happened, Tuesday’s announcement from Miller had the opposite effect, serving only to further invigorate the questions around Trump’s opaque financial holdings. As a candidate, the real estate mogul refused to release his tax returns, leaving the public almost entirely in the dark as to how much income he made last year, how much he gave to charity, and how much he owes to banks and investors.
Some $20 million in public stocks and bonds is also a comparatively minor asset next to the president-elect’s privately held business, the Trump Organization.
Trump has said he will address the conflicts between his business and his public office in a speech on December 15th. He has previously said that he will cede control of his own company to his three oldest children, calling this arrangement a “blind trust,” which it is not. But now it appears as though his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are moving to Washington, D.C., and could each play a significant role in his administration ― which raises fresh questions about how the family business might be run.
As long as Trump’s relatives are still running his company, the arrangement is not a blind trust in any sense of the term. A real blind trust would be administered by an unrelated third party, such as an independent lawyer, who would manage Trump’s assets while he was in office. In theory, Trump would not know how those assets were handled ― which ones were sold, which ones were held, what new assets were bought. (Given the highly public nature of many of Trump’s properties, it’s not clear how even this could be done, short of selling off all his holdings from the start.)
Since Trump knows his assets at least as well as his children, and since their financial interests naturally dovetail with his own, any arrangement in which they retain control does virtually nothing to solve potential conflicts. Moreover, Trump’s older children are intimately involved in their father’s political work. Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump are all part of the official transition executive committee.
On Nov. 17, when the president-elect met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Ivanka Trump was in the room, photos distributed by the Japanese press show. Ivanka’s presence at the meeting came after Trump’s transition team said that she and her two brothers would run the family business.
Since his Election Day triumph, there have been a string of examples of Trump himself mixing business with politics.
He met with Indian real estate developers who are licensing his name.
On a congratulatory call with Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri, Trump reportedly asked for a favor related to permits for an office tower bearing his name in Buenos Aires, according to an Argentine journalist. Spokespeople for Macri and Trump later strongly denied that the permitting issue was raised, but Marci did tell a Japanese newspaper that Ivanka had been on the call. And the developers running the Buenos Aires project had access to the Trumps throughout the campaign: Felipe Yaryura and Moses Yellati of the YY Development Group were at the Trump victory party on election night and both men attended the debates between Trump and Hillary Clinton.