"This is not a blind trust - it’s not even close" - Ethics watchdog criticises Trump's plans for business empire

Walter Shaub said he does not think "divestiture is too high a price to pay" to be president

"This is not a blind trust - it’s not even close" - Ethics watchdog criticises Trump's plans for business empire

President-elect Donald Trump, accompanied by his family, arrives a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower. Picture by Evan Vucci AP/Press Association Images

The head of a US government ethics watchdog has criticised Donald Trump's plan to place his business empire in a trust controlled by two of his children.

The President-elect said in a news conference that he had signed documents to give "complete and total" control of his sprawling business empire to his two eldest sons.

He will retain an ownership stake in the trust that holds his business asset, while control of The Trump Organization is to be formally handed over by Inauguration Day on 20 January.

In a speech at the at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Walter Shaub, director of the US Office of Government Ethics, said Mr Trump's plan does not live up to the standards set by previous presidents or even some of Trump's own cabinet nominees.

He said the only thing the plan "has in common with a blind trust is the label 'trust'" and suggested it is not even halfway blind.

Mr Shaub acknowledged that divestiture can 'be costly'. However, he added that the President-elect "would not be alone in making that sacrifice. I’ve been involved in just about every Presidential nomination in the past 10 years".

He explained: "I also have been involved in the ethics review of Presidents, Vice Presidents, and most top White House officials. I’ve seen the sacrifices that these individuals have had to make.

"It’s important to understand that the President is now entering the world of public service. He’s going to be asking his own appointees to make sacrifices. He’s going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world. So, no, I don’t think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the President of the United States of America."

Rex Tillerson. | Image: J. Scott Applewhite AP/Press Association Images

Mr Shaub highlighted the ethics agreement reached with secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson, who has spent the last decade as the CEO of ExxonMobil.

According to Mr Shaub, Mr Tillerson is "making a clean break" from the oil company.

"He’s also forfeiting bonus payments worth millions," Mr Shaub said. "As a result of OGE’s work, he’s now free of financial conflicts of interest."

While extremely critical of Mr Trump's plan as announced yesterday, Mr Shaub argued "there’s still time to build on that plan and come up with something that will resolve his conflicts of interest".

He concluded by suggesting: "It’s plain to see that none of this reflects any partisan motivation. All you have to do is imagine what will happen if the President-elect takes this advice and divests. He’ll be stronger.

"He’ll have a better chance of succeeding. So will the ethics program and the government as a whole. And, in turn, America will have a better chance of succeeding. We should all want that. I know I want that," he observed.

Additional reporting by IRN