Before taking office, President Trump promised to place his assets in a trust designed to erect a wall between him and the businesses that made him wealthy.
But newly released documents show that Trump himself is the sole beneficiary of the trust and that it is legally controlled by his oldest son and a longtime employee.
The documents, obtained through a public records request by the investigative news service ProPublica and first reported by the New York Times, also show that Trump retains the legal power to revoke the trust at any time.
The documents were filed to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in Washington to alert the board that oversees liquor licenses at Trump’s D.C. hotel of the change in the business.
The documents show that Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, were placed in legal control of the trust on Jan. 19, one day before Trump took office.
But they outline that the trust’s purpose is “to hold assets for the exclusive benefit of Donald J. Trump,” who “has the power to revoke the Trust.”
The records provide documentary evidence of what ethics experts have been warning about since before Trump took office.
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.
“What I’m going to be doing is my two sons, who are right here, Don and Eric, are going to be running the company,” Trump had said at a news conference shortly before taking office. “They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They’re not going to discuss it with me.”
Less than two weeks after returning to their New York City home following their father’s inauguration, Donald Trump Jr. and his brother Eric Trump, also assigned to run the business, were back in Washington this week to attend the announcement of Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.
Trump Organization representatives did not respond for comment about the documents Saturday.
The trust also does not dissolve other potential conflicts, including his title as executive producer of the NBC competition reality show “Celebrity Apprentice.” He recently made headlines for criticizing the show’s new host, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, at the National Prayer Breakfast.
NBC representatives have not said whether Trump will be compensated for that role, or how much. But executive producers are traditionally paid, even when only retaining a passive credit.
The trust document obtained by ProPublica is attached to license filings tied to Trump’s Washington hotel, and it remains unclear whether other Trump businesses are governed under the same trust. The company has declined multiple requests to provide company trust agreements that could provide more clarity.
In recent weeks, corporate filings have documented that the Trump Organization has been removing the president as an officer or director of the more than 400 entities registered across the country associated with the organization.
The Trump Organization also provided a list, signed by Trump on the day before his inauguration, of more than 400 companies from which he had agreed to resign. Other companies have been dissolved in recent months, the company said.
Those resignations provide evidence the president no longer has official management responsibilities in the businesses, as he and his attorney pledged during a news conference last month. Still, Trump will continue to profit from their success.
The company has also named Bobby Burchfield, a veteran Republican lawyer who has advised both Bush presidential teams, to serve as an outside ethics adviser, indicating that some corporate transactions would not be undertaken without his sign-off.
The question of Trump’s continued ownership stake has been particularly nettlesome at his Washington hotel, which is located in the Old Post Office building and is owned by the federal government. The terms of the 2013 lease agreement with the General Services Administration prohibit any elected official from benefiting from the property.
It is not yet clear whether placing his shares in the hotel under the control of the trust will provide sufficient legal separation to satisfy the terms of the lease. The GSA, which controls the lease, indicated on Jan. 27 that it had received new information from the Trump Organization and was “reviewing and evaluating this information to assess its compliance with the terms and conditions of the Old Post Office lease.”
Congressional Democrats, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), have been pressing the GSA to conclude that the Trump Organization is out of compliance with the lease.
“This legal concoction from President Trump’s lawyers does nothing to address his conflicts of interest or the breach of the lease for his hotel,” Cummings said in a statement.