The Trump Administration has been dogged by accusations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests. While President Trump claims to have ceded control of the Trump Organisation to his sons Eric and Donald Jr., the trust set up is porous at best, and reports indicate that the president can withdraw money from his more than 400 businesses at any time without disclosure.
Just as President Trump will receive “quarterly” updates on the Trump Organisation from his son Eric, [The Global Corruption Blog] track and report on instances in which there are credible allegations of President Trump, his family, and his close associates exploiting their public power for private gain. [This is organised into the] following four categories, which capture four related but distinct ways that political leaders may seek to leverage the power of public office to enrich themselves, their families, and their cronies:
- U.S. Government Payments to the Trump Organisation
- Use of the Power of the Presidency to Promote Trump Brands
- U.S. Government Regulatory and Policy Decisions that Benefit Business Interests of the Trump Family and Senior Advisors
- Private and Foreign Interests Seeking to Influence the Trump Administration Through Dealings with Trump Businesses
1. U.S. Government Payments to the Trump Organisation
One of the most direct ways that President Trump can profit from the presidency is by making decisions that effectively require U.S. government agencies to purchase goods or services from the Trump Organisation. Though unseemly and costly to taxpayers, this is one of the less destructive forms of potential profiteering by President Trump, since it does not significantly distort U.S. policy. Illustrative examples that have been reported in the media include the following:
- Secret Service at Trump Tower: Up until July 2017, the Secret Service, which is charged with protecting the President and his family, rented out two vacant floors of Trump Tower. This was not the first time the Secret Service had rented space from the government officials it is protecting. For example, when the Secret Service needed to protect former Vice President Joe Biden, the Service rented a nearby cottage that he owned. However, the payments were several orders of magnitude larger in the case of Trump Tower. In July 2017, the Secret Service vacated its rented space in Trump Tower because of disputes over terms of the lease, relocating to a trailer on the nearby sidewalk.
- Department of Defense at Trump Tower: The Department of Defense has followed its standard practice of setting up a separate headquarters near the President’s private residence—in this case also in Trump Tower. The Department rented space near President Barack Obama’s Chicago home and rented a secure trailer near President George Bush’s ranch, but the sums of money involved in the Trump Tower rental are substantially larger. The Department of Defense apparently has a $2.39 million lease to rent space in Trump Tower from April 2017 through September 2018. (The Wall Street Journal obtained the redacted lease, which does not reveal the owner’s name, through a Freedom of Information Act request. In a letter to Representative Jackie Speier, a Defense Department official claimed that the unit is privately owned and that the rental transaction would not benefit President Trump. The $130,000 monthly rental price tag is well above the most expensive recent listings at Trump Tower.)
- Trips to Mar-a-Lago and other Trump Properties: As of February 28, 2018, President Trump had spent 130 days at properties owned by the Trump Organisation, with the bulk of that time at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster (40 days) and Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida (56 days). On these visits, the Secret Service must pay the Trump Organisation directly for any costs related to protecting the president (including nearly $60,000 in golf car rentals so far this year). In fact, expense forms show that the Secret Service spent $63,700 at the Mar-a-Lago between February and April 2017 alone.
- Trump Properties Abroad: If President Trump or his immediate family travel abroad and choose to stay at a Trump property, the U.S. government will pay the Trump Organisation to rent space for the Secret Service and any additional necessary support. For example, the State Department paid $15,000 for 19 rooms at the Trump hotel in Vancouver when Donald Jr., Eric, and Tiffany Trump attended an opening ceremony there in February 2017. (This amount does not include undisclosed Secret Service expenses for the trip.)
- Secret Service on Trump Jets: The President is required to travel on Air Force One or Marine One during his time in office, but the First Family can and does travel on private planes owned by the Trump Organisation. When the Secret Service accompanies the Trump family on their private planes, they reimburse the Trump Organisation directly. (In fact, during the presidential campaign the Service paid TAG Air, Inc.—a Trump company—$1.6 million.)
This blog was originally published on GAB | The Global Anticorruption Blog Law, Social Science, and Policy and was republished with permission.
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in this article reflect the author’s views and not necessarily the views of The Big Q.