Report highlights an unprecedented mix of presidential affairs and personal business.
A nonprofit group tallied 2,310 conflicts of interest stemming from President Trump’s unprecedented decision to retain a stake in his business properties since he took office in 2017.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington released a report Thursday that calculated the number of times the president visited his properties at taxpayers' expense (362), the number of foreign government officials (110) and U.S. officials (250) who have visited Trump properties and the number of political events (63) held at his properties.
Every president before Trump divested from his business interests before being sworn in, CREW noted. “Divestiture also served as an assurance to the public that the president would not open himself up to undue influence from special interests and foreign governments that might use his businesses as a way to curry favor with him and his administration,” the report said. However, Trump has not followed this precedent.
The nonprofit used social media, news articles and FOIA responses over the last two and a half years to tally the conflicts. “There is no comprehensive financial filing requirement, for example, that the public or Congress can use to effectively identify these contacts,” according to the report. “The administration has refused any good-faith efforts to provide the public with useful information.”
The report raises concerns that the administration is blurring the lines between government business, politics and Trump’s personal business interests. Among the red flags CREW noted: political groups have spent over $2.4 million at the Trump International Hotel in Washington; Trump has nominated eight current or former members of his clubs to administration posts; and people close to the Trump Organization have been given informal access to the White House and tours of Air Force One. Axios reported in July that Trump National Doral, the president’s golf club in Miami, may even host the G7 economic summit next year.
The most frequent visitors to Trump’s properties have been Turkish officials (among foreign countries) and Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C. (among congressional members). Security issues have also been raised as a result of the president hosting so many government and foreign officials at his private Florida club Mar-a-Lago. Club members have had access to the military aide in charge of the nuclear codes, for example, and discussions between Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during North Korea’s ballistic missile tests in February 2017, as was widely reported.
While Trump did turn over management of his businesses to his two oldest sons and a longtime executive, he receives updates frequently and is the sole beneficiary, The New York Times has reported. Many legal and ethics officials have accused the president of violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which prohibits federal office-holders from receiving payments or gifts from foreign states without Congress’ consent.
Trump has been sued in several cases alleging emoluments violations. In December 2017, The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York tossed out a suit filed by CREW, which alleged the president is violating the foreign emoluments clause by taking payments from foreign governments at his properties. The judge ruled the plaintiffs lacked standing. The case is now in the appeals process.
According to the Congressional Research Service, “Until recently, there had been no substantial litigation concerning the Emoluments Clauses,” so this is fairly unknown legal territory.
In the post-Watergate era, “Though the provisions of the [Ethics in Government] Act don’t specifically apply to the president, there’s been an unsaid norm or understanding by presidents that they would act as if the Ethics in Government Act applies to them,” said Rudy Mehrbani, Spitzer fellow and senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.
Robert Maguire, research director at CREW, said there “absolutely” are more conflicts of interest than what the organizationtracked. Due to the lack of visitor logs, member lists and other disclosures from Trump properties, there is still a lot the public does not know. He called the report the “tip of the iceberg.”