Throughout his brief political career, Donald Trump has struggled in a variety of areas, including transparency. Can we see his tax returns? No. Can we see the White House visitor logs? No. Can we see a Mar-a-Lago membership list? No.
Keep this in mind when reading about the president’s business “donating” its foreign profits.
The Trump Organization announced Monday that it donated the profits from “foreign government patronage” at its hotels last year to the U.S. Treasury, but declined to identify those foreign customers or the amount of the contribution.
President Trump’s company made the donation on Feb. 22, according to George A. Sorial, the Trump Organization’s chief compliance counsel.
“Although not a legal requirement, this voluntary donation fulfills our pledge to donate profits from foreign government patronage at our hotels and similar business during President Trump’s term in office,” Sorial said.
Let’s back up and review some of the relevant context. The Constitution doesn’t allow a president to receive money from foreign governments, but Trump’s hotels – which he continues to own and profit from – welcome foreign officials as guests. Indeed, it’s pretty common, despite concerns about corruption and emoluments.
Before taking office, Trump and his team came up with a purported solution: his business would monitor receipts and make sure the president didn’t profit from foreign governments.
Problem solved? Not so much: NBC News reported last May that the Trump Organization found it was logistically difficult to keep track of foreign profits, so it wouldn’t bother. Instead, the Trump Organization would create estimates based on their best guesses.
Which brings us to yesterday, and the president’s business boasting about “voluntarily donating” these profits. That might sound nice, but it doesn’t come close to resolving the controversy.
The Washington Post’s report explained, for example, that the Trump Organization hasn’t said how much money it donated. Or how it arrived at the figure. Or which foreign governments originally paid the president’s businesses. Or which parts of the president’s private-sector enterprise were included.
Even the idea that the Trump Organization “voluntarily donated” the money is a curious way to frame this. We’re talking about foreign profits that the president cannot legally keep. It’s a bit like bragging about giving away an illegal bribe that landed in your bank account: sure, that’s a good thing to do, but when it’s a crime to keep ill-gotten gains, you’re clearing a very low bar when you give that money away.
And when the entire arrangement is shrouded in secrecy, the purported resolution raises more questions than it answers.