'Germophobe' Trump outlines plans to separate from business at lively press conference

Donald Trump has described himself as a "germophobe" - someone who is obsessed with cleanliness and has an extreme fear of germs.

The US President-elect made his comments at a press conference in which he suggested American intelligence agencies may be responsible for releasing a dossier containing allegations that Russia holds compromising information about him.

Referring to the allegations contained in the dossier, Mr Trump told reporters he was a "germophobe".

"Does anyone really believe that story?" he said. "I'm also very much of a germophobe by the way, believe me."

Mr Trump's aversion to germs has been apparent in the past, and he once famously distributed bottles of hand sanitiser to reporters.

The President-elect has also described the handshake greeting as "barbaric".

He wrote in 1997: "One of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands, and the more successful and famous one becomes, the worse this terrible custom seems to get. I happen to be a clean hands freak. I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible."

A few years ago, he conceded that if he decided to run in the presidential elections, he would have to shake hands - but he did not specify whether that would include teachers - whom he vowed he would never touch - "because they have 17,000 germs per square inch on their desks".

Donald Trump points during today's press conference. Picture: AP

At the same press conference today - his first since winning the election - Mr Trump has said he is voluntarily handing over control of his business empire to his two sons Donald Jr and Eric.

Speaking at a press conference in New York, Mr Trump said there was no requirement for him to give up the management of the Trump Organisation during his time in the White House, as presidents were exempted from conflict of interest rules.

He brushed aside calls for him to release his tax returns, insisting voters did not care about the payments he had made.

Facing questions on the returns - which he consistently refused to release during his election battle with Hillary Clinton - the Republican president-elect told reporters: "I won. I don't think they care at all."

"I'm not releasing the tax returns, because as you know they are under audit," said Mr Trump, who said reporters were the only people interested in them.

He said that information released about his company during the election campaign had shown voters that it is "much bigger and much more powerful than they ever thought - we are in many, many countries, and I'm very proud of it".

Mr Trump said that his sons would run his company "in a very professional manner", adding: "They are not going to discuss it with me."

He insisted there was no requirement on him to avoid conflicts of interests as president, adding: "I didn't know about that until about three months ago, but it's a nice thing to have.

"But I don't want to take advantage of something. I have something that others don't have. Vice-president Pence has it, but I don't think he'll need it - I have a feeling he won't need it.

"I have a no conflict of interest provision as president. This is many, many years old. This is for presidents because they don't want presidents getting tangled up in minutiae, they want a president to run the country.

"I could actually run my business and run government at the same time. I don't like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to.

"As a president, I could run the Trump Organisation - a great, great company - and I could run the country. I'd do a very good job, but I don't want to do that."

Mr Trump said that over the past weekend he was offered $2bn to do a deal in Dubai with "a very, very, very amazing man, a great, great property developer from the Middle East".

He said: "I turned it down. I didn't have to turn it down because - as you know - I have a no conflict situation as president."

Mr Trump also sought to alleviate concerns that he could violate the US constitution's "emoluments clause" - designed to keep the president free from outside influence - if foreign governments spend money at or on one of his business.

His tax lawyer Sheri Dillon told the press conference Mr Trump would therefore "donate" all profits from foreign government payments to his hotels to the US Treasury.

Ms Dillon, of the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, said: "The business empire built by President-elect Trump over the years is massive - not dissimilar to the fortunes of Nelson Rockefeller when he became vice-president, but at that time no-one was so concerned."

She said Mr Trump wanted voters to "rest assured that all of his efforts are directed to pursuing the people's business and not his own".

He had instructed her firm to set up a structure for his businesses that would "completely isolate him from the management of the company" and ensure "that the activities of the Trump Organisation cannot be perceived to be exploitative of the presidency", she said.

"He instructed us to take all steps realistically possible to make clear that he is not exploiting the office of the president for his personal benefit," said Ms Dillon.

She said this was "voluntary", because "the conflict of interest laws simply don't apply to the president or the vice-president and they are not required to separate themselves from their financial assets".

All of the Trump Organisation's businesses have been or will be transferred to a trust, controlled by Donald Jr, Eric and chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, before he takes office on January 20.

"Together, Don, Eric and Allen will have the authority to manage the Trump Organisation and will make decisions for the duration of the presidency without any involvement whatsoever by President-elect Trump," she said.

An ethics adviser will be appointed to the management team and will be required to sign off any activities which may give rise to conflict-of-interest concerns, said Ms Dillon.

No new foreign deals will be made during the duration of the Trump presidency. Domestic deals will go through a "rigorous vetting process".

Trump's daughter Ivanka - whose husband Jared Kushner has been named as a senior White House adviser to his father-in-law - will have no further involvement with the Trump Organisation, she said.

Mr Trump himself has already sold all of his publicly-tradable investments, said Ms Dillon. And she said he would have "no role at all" in the Trump Organisation's deals, adding: "He will only know of a deal if he reads it in the paper or sees it on TV."

Ms Dillon said that simply selling Mr Trump's assets would not be an effective way of preventing conflicts of interest.

Much of his business empire involves facilities such as hotels and golf clubs which are branded with the Trump name, she pointed out.

"The Trump brand is key to the value of the Trump Organisation's assets," she said. "If President-elect Trump sold his brand, he would be entitled to royalties for the use of it and this would result in the trust retaining an interest in the brand without the ability to ensure that it does not exploit the office of the presidency.

"Whatever price was paid would be subject to criticism and scrutiny. Was it too high? Is there pay-per-play? Was too much paid to curry favour with the president-elect?

"Selling his assets without the rights to the brand would greatly diminish the value of the assets and create a fire-sale. President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built."

Ms Dillon dismissed the viability of a range of alternative solutions which have been proposed.

Selling the Organisation to Mr Trump's adult children would involve "massive third-party debt" from lenders whose motives would undoubtedly come under question, she said.

Turning the Organisation into a public company would be "extraordinarily cumbersome and complicated" and was a "non-starter". And a blind trust was not possible because "President-elect Trump cannot unknow that he owns Trump Tower".


KEYWORDS: Donald Trump

 

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