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Sons seek to expand Trump empire to Don-friendly states

Apprentices no more, Donald Trump's sons, now at the helm of the Trump Organisation, are eyeing ways to use the new lease on the family fame by expanding the brand into parts of the United States that embrace their father.

Some business has slowed as a result of the pledge to stall international deal-making while Mr Trump is president.

But sons Eric and Donald Jr are planning a US push with two new hotel chains - a four-star brand and a less luxurious line - being considered, possibly in states where Mr Trump triumphed over Democrat Hillary Clinton last November.

"I think it makes it naturally easier if you're going into a place that's not adversarial to you," Donald Jr said in a recent interview.

The Trump Organisation is a private, family-run business that owns billions of dollars' worth of hotels, office buildings, golf courses and management and licensing agreements.

Although foreign deals are on hold, the company will complete existing projects, including ones in India, the United Arab Emirates and the Dominican Republic.

Because overseas markets have been hotter for the Trump brand, the company could lose some new revenue, the president's sons suggested.

Last year the company announced the creation of a four-star hotel chain called Scion, which is meant to offer upmarket service in US cities that could not support a full-fledged Trump luxury property.

More than two dozen letters of intent have been signed, though no ground has been broken yet.

Among the possible locations being considered are Texas, parts of the South, and perhaps the nation's capital, where the hotel would exist with the Trump luxury property in the former home of the Old Post Office, not far from the White House.

The company is also in the very early stages of considering a three-star hotel chain.

Experts said the plan would not seem to breach any ethics standards, even if the hotels ended up in some of the economically-depressed regions whose voters rallied for Mr Trump and may not be able to afford a luxury brand.

It would be no different from cashing in on the name of a non-political celebrity, they said.

Similarly, daughter Ivanka Trump has made a pitch for her father's blue-collar supporters by replacing her high-end jewellery line with a mass-market brand.

"It would not seem to blur any lines with the presidency," said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University.

She said that while "questions can be raised" about some of the company's behaviour, a pitch into Trump-friendly states seemed like "a reasonable business strategy".

Donald Jr says he bristles at the idea that his father ran for president to enrich himself or his family, as some critics claimed during the campaign.

"He spent 75 million (dollars) of his own money to run against 17 incredibly seasoned Republican candidates to then go against Hillary Clinton," he said.

"No one in their right mind would do that. That's not a good business model.

"I get it, it sells papers, it creates headlines. But it's ridiculous."

Donald Jr said he barely spoke to his father during his first weeks in office but that changed after the younger Trump's five-year-old son Tristan was hurt in a skiing accident.

Eric Trump says he talks to his father more regularly but insists any discussions about the family business are limited to broad strokes and sticks to the guidelines the president laid out in January.

"We don't talk about the business. At most it's, 'How's Turnberry? Turnberry's great'," Eric said, referring to a Trump golf property in Scotland.

He said he would tell his father, if asked: "A profit or loss in a quarter, that's it."

"That doesn't talk about any business sectors, that doesn't talk about any assets, that doesn't talk about anything specific in the business. That is a pure number, one number on a piece of paper," Eric said.

But experts disagree.

Fred Wertheimer, head of the ethics watchdog group Democracy 21, said: "As long as President Trump insists on owning the Trump Organisation, the conflicts of interest that may occur run directly to him and the so-called firewall plays no role in preventing them.

"It's an illusion and does not protect the American people."

Both Mr Trump's sons said they missed their father's presence. Eric said he sometimes looks upon the stack of one-dollar bills that he won during a series of friendly business bets.

The winner would give the other a dollar bill with a note scrawled upon it and the elder Trump would use the bills, or a newspaper clipping about a Trump property, as a means of communicating to his sons, and his trademark scrawl would carry his congratulations - or his wishes - to those he was training to some day lead his company.

"It was his way of saying, 'Get this done' or 'Great job, ET - this is going to be amazing'," Eric said.

"It's a simple way of communicating but I learned a lot. I miss that."

AP

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