This article has been updated.
No one knows how pervasive President-elect Donald Trump's business interests actually are. Well, no one outside the Trump Organization and the Trump family, that is. For the first time in 40 years, Americans elected a president who didn't provide detailed tax records; for the first time in history, we elected a president whose only experience is rooted in those businesses we don't really know anything about.
The Post's Drew Harwell and Anu Narayanswamy took a look at where and how Trump's business empire might conflict with the business of government. Trump has stated that he will hand over management of the Trump Organization to his children, but it's not clear how that will prevent conflicts. At the same time, Trump's decision to skip the traditional traveling press pool as president-elect means that there's less transparency about whom he's meeting with and when.
Since the election, there have already been a number of alleged or demonstrated instances in which Trump's new position as president-elect has overlapped with his promotion of or involvement with his business interests.
Trump met with developers from a project in India after winning the election. The weekend after Trump won the presidential election, a group of Indian business executives arrived at Trump Tower and met with Trump and his children. (The group posed for photos with the Trumps that were published on Facebook.)
One of the business executives told the New York Times that the discussion was simply meant to offer congratulations. Another, though, admitted that the meeting included “discussions with the Trump family about possible additional real estate deals.” One consultant who'd worked with Trump, Pranav Bhakta, explained the benefit to the Times: “To say, ‘I have a Trump flat or residence’ — it’s president-elect branded. It’s that recall value. If they didn’t know Trump before, they definitely know him now.”
This story was first reported by foreign media outlets, not by American reporters tracking Trump's transition effort.
Trump's family met with the prime minister of Japan. When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to Trump Tower to meet Trump, his daughter, Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner were included in part of the conversation. Ivanka, again, is supposed to be running Trump's business interests over the next four years, meaning, in essence, that Trump is providing access to resources he's gained from his public position to the person in charge of his personal interests.
Photos of the event were made available by the Japanese prime minister's office, as American press was not allowed access to the meeting.
Trump's three oldest children are members of his transition team. Despite Trump's proposal to distance himself from his business interests by having his children manage his interests, he's named all three of his oldest children -- Ivanka, Eric and Donald, Jr. -- to his transition team. That's the group of people who will eventually manage the executive branch of the government, and the people running Trump's business will have helped to pick them.
Ivanka Trump participated in a phone call with the president of Argentina. Talking Points Memo noted a detail in a report from the Argentine newspaper La Nación. According to journalist Jorge Lanata, Argentine President Mauricio Macri phoned Trump to offer his congratulations on the election outcome, with Trump allegedly using the opportunity to ask Macri to facilitate permitting for a project he is working on in Buenos Aires.
That appears not to be true. A reporter from Public Radio International spoke with the office of the Argentine president who denied the report. Jason Miller, spokesman for Trump, told The Post in an email that the report was not true. As our Nick Miroff notes, Lanata was “half-joking, half-serious” when making the claim.
The Argentine president is no doubt aware of Trump's interest in his country, including the development of an office building in the Buenos Aires. The developer Trump is working with proudly touts its association with the president-elect (on a project across Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires) on its own website.
Talking Points Memo also notes that the developer was at Trump's celebration on election night, and was photographed with Eric Trump. Earlier this year, Eric Trump told a newspaper in Uruguay that he saw Macri as a model for the sort of president his father might be.
The Guardian later reported that Ivanka Trump participated in the call with Macri, creating a similar conflict as in the Abe example.
Trump projects in Argentina and Georgia moved forward during and after the election. In the wake of that call, whether or not Trump raised the subject of his development deal, the project in Buenos Aires moved forward by finally receiving long-stalled permits. Similarly, a project in the former Soviet republic of Georgia was sidelined for years thanks to a faltering economy and political change in the country. As Election Day approached, Trump's business partners in the country made new progress toward completion. Shortly after the election, they contacted Trump's children to announce that developers were ready to move forward -- and to offer their congratulations on Trump's victory.
Trump's children met with the Phillippines' special envoy to the U.S. -- who is also a developer working with the business. The New York Times reported that Jose Antonio, recently named as special envoy to the United States, met with the Trump children after the election. Antonio partnered with Trump on a building in Manila and is working on further projects with the Trump Organization. The Times article also lists other potential points of conflict stemming from Trump's business dealings overseas, including in India, Turkey, Ireland and Scotland.
The lease on Trump's new hotel in D.C. specifically bars involvement of elected officials. Earlier this year, Trump triumphantly opened a new Trump-branded hotel down the street from the White House. The location was the Old Post Office Pavilion, a building owned by the federal government. According to Government Executive, one of the terms of the lease stipulates that no elected official "shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom." As of his inauguration, Trump will be in violation of that dictate.
"The situation is a casebook example of both the appearance of a significant conflict of interest and an intolerable intermingling of an elected official’s governmental duties and his family’s personal financial interests," write Government Executive's Steven Schooner and Daniel Gordon.
Foreign diplomats see the Trump Hotel as an opportunity to curry favor with the president-elect. As The Post has reported, foreign diplomats have been courted as likely clientele for the project.
From that report:
About 100 foreign diplomats, from Brazil to Turkey, gathered at the Trump International Hotel this week to sip Trump-branded champagne, dine on sliders and hear a sales pitch about the U.S. president-elect’s newest hotel.
The event for the diplomatic community, held one week after the election, was in the Lincoln Library, a junior ballroom with 16-foot ceilings and velvet drapes that is also available for rent.
One Asian diplomat put the issue bluntly to our Jonathan O'Connell and Mary Jordan: “Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, 'I love your new hotel!' Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, 'I am staying at your competitor?'” In an interview with The Times, Trump acknowledged that idea. "I mean it could be that occupancy at that hotel will be because, psychologically, occupancy at that hotel will be probably a more valuable asset now than it was before, O.K.? The brand is certainly a hotter brand than it was before. I can’t help that, but I don’t care," he said.
Trump held a New Year's Eve party at Mar-a-Lago, selling tickets for at least $525 each
Politico's Ken Vogel reported that Trump's New Year's Eve bash was held at his members-only Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, a property that he owns. More than eight hundred people attended, paying at least $525 for a ticket if a member of the club and $575 if not. In a speech filmed by a guest, Trump thanked the members of the club.
"Again, I want to thank my members," he said. "I don't really care too much about their guests, because the ones I really care about are the members. I don't give a s--- about their guests."
Transition spokesperson Hope Hicks told Vogel that "the president cannot and does not have a conflict" in regards to the money he made at the party. The "cannot" apparently refers to the fact that federal conflict-of-interest rules exclude the presidency.
The only sure way to guarantee that Trump isn't confronted with conflicts of interest as president, experts suggest, is to liquidate his properties and reinvest the money in ways that Trump isn't aware of. That's trickier than it might seem, given how much of Trump's stated net worth is tied up in projects that leverage his name (as opposed to his owning properties, for example). Many of Trump's projects are licensing deals in which he allows the use of his name to a developer in exchange for a fee or part of the profits. Deals based on his name would be harder to extricate his interests from; his business partners seem to have gotten very lucky thanks to the American electoral college system.
It's already clear, though, that — even without detailed information about Trump's business interests — there are significant reasons to be concerned about how and where Trump's personal interests overlap with the power that he'll inherit on Jan. 20.
This post was updated to include a statement from the Trump transition effort, to add new examples and to correct the location of Trump developments in South America.