President-elect Donald Trump said in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday that it would pose a conflict of interest for him to own a stake in dozens of companies that could be affected by his decisions as president, but he did not say whether he would apply the same standard to his much larger holding in his own business.
His comments came a day after his spokesman told reporters that Trump had sold off his stock portfolio in June, transactions that had not been announced at the time and came as Trump was ramping up for a costly general-election campaign that he had said he would fund partly with his own money.
Trump’s spokesman provided no documentation of the stock sales and no additional details, including how much Trump had made as a result of the transactions or how he had spent the money he earned as a result.
Trump told the “Today” host Matt Lauer that he sold the stock because he thought he was likely to win the election in November and did not want a conflict.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to be owning stocks when I’m making deals for this country that maybe will affect one company positively and one company negatively. So I just felt it was a conflict,” he said.
In Trump’s most recent legally mandated financial disclosure, which he filed in May 2016 and described his holdings as of December 2015, he had reported owning shares of major banks, as well as oil and technology companies — a total stock portfolio he valued at as much as $40 million.
Still, stocks made up a relatively small portion of Trump’s overall real estate and licensing business empire.
He has indicated that he will provide more details on Dec. 15 about legal documents that are being crafted that will take him “completely out of business operations” of the Trump Organization, which holds real estate and licensing deals worldwide.
He has given no indication, however, of whether he plans to divest his ownership interest in those deals, a step many ethics experts believe is the only way to ensure it is clear that his actions as president are not designed to assist his business. A spokesman for the Office of Government Ethics, which advises elected officials about avoiding conflicts, has said that “divestiture resolves conflicts of interest in a way that transferring control does not.”
In an interview Nov. 23 with the New York Times, he appeared to resist the idea of selling his company, as opposed to simply turning over control to his adult children, as he said he would do during the campaign.
“That’s a very hard thing to do, you know what, because I have real estate. I have real estate all over the world, which now people are understanding,” he said, when asked if he planned to sell his company. “I think that, you know, selling real estate isn’t like selling stock. Selling real estate is much different, it’s in a much different world.”
His spokesman did not immediately respond to a question Wednesday about why it would be a conflict to have ownership in companies through stock but not to own his company.
Asked by Lauer why the public is only just now hearing about stock trades that took place five months ago, Trump responded: “I let everybody know. I let everybody know. And I’m not, I was never a big stockholder, but I bought a lot of different stocks, and I had a lot of stocks before then, too. And what I did was I sold them.”
Trump’s campaign in fact did not disclose the transactions at the time of the sale. In an interview with FOX Business Network in August, Trump appeared to allude to the trades. “I did invest and I got out and it was actually very good timing,” he said then, indicating that he thought the market was dropping.
But Trump’s team has not responded to questions in recent weeks about his stock ownership. Stock prices have also generally risen, not fallen, since Trump sold in June.
Drew Harwell contributed to this report.