President-elect Donald Trump faced criticism from an unusual source on Wednesday when a buttoned-down U.S. government ethics office issued an apparently sarcastic stream of Twitter messages applauding him for selling off his assets.
Trump, in fact, has not said whether he will sell the hotels, golf courses and other businesses that make up his global Trump Organization, as the U.S. Office of Government Ethics subsequently acknowledged. But the agency sent out a series of tweets as if he had done just that.
“OGE is delighted that you’ve decided to divest your businesses. Right decision!” one tweet said. “We told your counsel we’d sing your praises if you divested, we meant it.”
Trump promised only that he will be “leaving his great business in total” in a series of early morning tweets, one of his most common methods of communicating.
Democratic lawmakers and other critics said Trump’s business interests could pose conflicts of interest when he takes office on Jan. 20 because he will be in a position to influence tax laws, environmental regulations and other government policies that could affect his assets.
Ethics office spokesman Seth Jaffe said Trump would more clearly resolve potential conflicts if he sold off his assets, rather than simply transferring control.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Previous presidents have opted to put their savings and investments into blind trusts so they do not know how their decisions in office influence their personal fortunes.
Republican Trump, also a former reality TV star who has never previously held public office, has said this would be impractical because it would be difficult to sell off apartment buildings and other properties.
He said on Wednesday he is drawing up legal documents that would remove him from day-to-day business operations. He said he would provide details on Dec. 15 at a news conference with his adult children, who are all involved in his enterprises.
“While I am not mandated to do this under the law, I feel it is visually important, as president, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses,” Trump tweeted.
Democratic lawmakers said that announcement was “vague” and urged Republicans who control Congress to hold hearings.
Sixteen Democratic members of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee wrote a letter asking whether Trump will transfer his assets to his children; whether his children will be involved in his administration; and whether businesses, foreign governments, and others will “continue to be able to take actions that benefit Mr. Trump and his family.”
Democrats need the committee’s Republican chairman, Representative Bob Goodlatte, to agree to move forward with hearings. A Goodlatte spokeswoman said she did not expect the chairman would have a statement.