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President-elect Donald Trump said today that he's taking steps to separate himself from his businesses in order to fully focus on running the country. He made the announcement in a series of tweets this morning. Trump owns a vast network of businesses all over the world that represent enormous conflicts of interest for the incoming administration.
We're joined now by NPR's Jim Zarroli. He's been covering this story. And Jim, exactly what did Trump say he was going to do to address the conflicts of interest?
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: He said legal documents are being crafted to take me completely out of business operations. He said, I'm not mandated to do this, but I feel it is visually important. He said, the presidency is a far more important task.
He also said he's going to be holding a major press conference on December 15 to provide details about what he's going to do. That's kind of a long way off. I'm not sure why he's waiting that long except maybe because his lawyers need more time just to figure out how to address these issues.
CORNISH: And when we say conflicts of interest, what exactly do we mean? I mean why is there so much concern about this?
ZARROLI: Well, Trump has, as you know, a large network of businesses all over the world, in the United States, in other countries. He has said until now that he is going to hand over the operations of these businesses to three of his grown children. I think the concern is there just are a lot of ways that the presidency will have an impact on these businesses.
I mean if his kids want to go to a foreign country, you know, to try to do a deal, I mean they're going to have access that other businesses don't have. I mean there just are a lot of ways to profit potentially from Trump's presidency for his businesses.
I mean for example, that new hotel in D.C. in the Old Post Office building - I mean you already have stories about how diplomats are going there, you know, just to try to curry favor with him. Any decision that he makes as president is going to be seen through the lens of, you know, how it affects his businesses.
CORNISH: So short of selling his business, I mean what kind of legal options does Trump have to address these conflicts of interest?
ZARROLI: Well, selling would be the cleanest way out. You know, sell all the businesses; take the proceeds, and then put money into something kind of neutral like T-bills or mutual funds. I mean short of that, he could take the holdings and turn them over to someone independent, put them in a blind trust so he wouldn't have any influence over what happens to the businesses.
But a lot of people who have, you know, been in the area of government ethics say that probably wouldn't go far enough because, you know, Trump built these businesses. He knows them very well, and he knows how these businesses would be affected by almost any decision he makes. I mean just given the scope of his businesses, all of them - all the ones that he owns - I mean almost anything he does as president potentially affects them.
CORNISH: But given what you've just described, I mean how complicated would a sale be, right?
ZARROLI: Oh, it would be immensely complicated. I mean it would take a long time. Unwinding this kind of a - you know, these kinds of businesses takes years. You know, there's also the fire sale problem. He would be going out onto the market all at once, essentially having to dump everything, and he might not be able to get a really good price for it.
There's also the question, you know, which I'm not sure how you'd answer. You know, his assets, his hotels, his golf courses - they're all just inextricably linked to his brand name. And so what value are they going to have on the open market if he's not involved with the company?
CORNISH: Before I let you go, I want to ask about the tax implications of all this. People who sell properties have to pay capital gains taxes.
ZARROLI: Yeah, there is a federal law that says if you're selling properties or if you're selling assets for conflict of interest reasons, you don't have to pay capital gains tax. Now, there's some question about whether this would apply to Trump because he is not mandated to comply with conflict of interest laws the way, you know, Cabinet officials, other people in his administration would be.
But if he does benefit from that law, I mean that would potentially be a lot of money for him. I mean he - you know, capital gains tax, if you're a New York state resident, is going to be 30 percent of the profit of what you make in a sale. So that could really be something that ultimately works in his favor.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Jim Zarroli. Jim, thank you.
ZARROLI: You're welcome.
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