- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2016

Democrats announced legislation Thursday to force President-elect Donald Trump to divest his massive business empire, as they sought to go on offense against the man who confounded them during the election.

A handful of liberal Senate Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, said they’ll introduce the bill early next month when Congress convenes, just ahead of Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

Their bill came the same day that Mr. Trump had initially promised to explain how he would extricate himself from his real estate and golf course holdings — an explanation that never materialized, as the president-elect put off a planned press conference until next month.

“The only way for President-elect Trump to truly eliminate conflicts-of-interest is to divest his financial interests and place them in a blind trust,” Ms. Warren said as she and her colleagues announced their bill. “This has been the standard for previous presidents, and our bill makes clear the continuing expectation that President-elect Trump do the same.”

Their bill would require the president to “disclose and divest” any potential financial conflicts of interest. It would also require presidential appointees to recuse themselves from any specific matters involving the financial interests of the president.

It stipulates that the president and his “minor or dependent children” divest their interests. Mr. Trump has said he plans to turn his business over to his two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, upon entering the White House.

Presidential transition adviser Kellyanne Conway suggested on Thursday that Ivanka, Mr. Trump’s adult daughter, and her husband Jared Kushner could ultimately have roles in the administration.

“I think that we would benefit tremendously by having them inside the administration if in fact that could happen,” Ms. Conway told reporters at Trump Tower.

Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and Mr. Kushner are all official members of the transition team.

“The anti-nepotism law apparently has an exception if you want to work in the West Wing, because the president is able to appoint his own staff,” Ms. Conway said earlier on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “The president does have discretion to choose a staff of his liking.”

Amid ongoing questions about his business ties, Mr. Trump had promised a press conference to clear things up. But transition spokesman Jason Miller told reporters Thursday they are still working on details.

“I think the priority here is to make sure that we get it right, and if that takes a little bit more time, then I think the American people understand that,” Mr. Miller said on a conference call Thursday.

But Mr. Trump himself seemed to dismiss the complexities of the problem.

“The media tries [too] hard to make my move to the White House, as it pertains to by business, so complex — when actually it isn’t!” he said in a Twitter post Thursday morning.

Democrats are demanding answers in the wake of a recent report in Government Executive that said Mr. Trump will be in violation of the terms on his new Washington, D.C., hotel when he enters office because of a ban on elected government officials being party to the deal.

House Democrats said this week that a deputy commissioner at the General Services Administration (GSA), which is involved with the project built out of the Old Post Office building, confirmed that Mr. Trump will indeed be breaching the lease agreement when he takes office.

They also wrote that Ivanka Trump’s involvement in the negotiations, coupled with her relationship to Mr. Trump and her role in the transition, constitute “obvious” conflicts of interest.

But the GSA said it does not have a position on whether Mr. Trump needs to divest from the project and that to make a definitive statement about what constitutes a breach would be premature.

“In fact, no determination regarding the Old Post Office can be completed until the full circumstances surrounding the President-elect’s business arrangements have been finalized and he has assumed office,” the agency said. “GSA is committed to responsibly administering all of the leases to which it is a party.”

With the help of several liberal advocacy groups, activists delivered more than 500,000 petition signatures to various Trump properties and GOP Sen. Pat Toomey’s office on Thursday in a bid to get Mr. Trump to divorce himself from his business and to urge Congress to investigate.

Ms. Conway said the demands by Mr. Trump’s detractors are extreme.

“I think anything short of him never talking to his adult children again won’t satisfy his critics,” she said.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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