An exterior view of the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel at the old post office on Oct. 26, 2016 in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty

Questions surrounding Trump’s conflicts of interest intensify

A week before taking office, Donald Trump held a press conference intended to resolve long-standing questions about his many conflicts of interest. The event was something of a disaster: instead of divesting, creating a blind trust, and/or separating his ownership stake in his private-sector ventures, the Republican and his team announced a plan in which Trump would remain the owner of his business enterprise.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that the problems may have been pushed from the front page by other Trump-related controversies, but the underlying issues haven’t changed at all.
While the president says he has walked away from the day-to-day operations of his business, two people close to him are the named trustees and have broad legal authority over his assets: his eldest son, Donald Jr., and Allen H. Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer. Mr. Trump, who will receive reports on any profit, or loss, on his company as a whole, can revoke their authority at any time.

What’s more, the purpose of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust is to hold assets for the “exclusive benefit” of the president. This trust remains under Mr. Trump’s Social Security number, at least as far as federal taxes are concerned.
This is of particular interest as it relates to the Old Post Office, near the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, which Trump converted into a hotel. Legally, according to the building’s lease, the hotel cannot benefit any elected official, including the president. And yet, as of now, Trump is still profiting from the building he helped build at the site.

A Washington Post report added, “While Trump has promised he will observe a separation between his business and the presidency, he retains ownership of the business and will personally benefit if the business profits from decisions made by his government. Further, the business will be run by family members who remain the most trusted members of Trump’s inner circle, raising questions about whether Trump’s promises to limit communication about the business’s fate are realistic.”

Related headlines keep popping up. One of Trump’s resorts, for example, has increased its membership fees to capitalize on the president’s notoriety, meaning more profits for a business Trump still owns. Trump’s private-sector business partners, meanwhile, reportedly benefited from VIP treatment during his inaugural festivities last month, with the lines between Trump’s presidency and Trump’s private dealings blurred to the point that they effectively no longer existed.

And then, of course, there’s Trump’s hotel chain, which is moving forward with plans to triple its domestic locations.

Remember Team Trump’s assurances that he’d terminated “all pending deals” and would impose “severe new restrictions” on any new business ventures? There was apparently far more flexibility to that vow than we’d been led to believe.

Two days before the inauguration, Sean Spicer told reporters Trump “has gone above and beyond in what he has done to make sure there are no conflicts.” It was an outlandish claim at the time, and it hasn’t improved with age.

Donald Trump

Questions surrounding Trump's conflicts of interest intensify