The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nine questions about President Trump’s businesses and possible conflicts of interest

The Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold takes a look at the Trump Organization’s real estate business since President Trump took office. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

Note: This is intended to be a living Q&A. We’ll update it as news breaks and as The Washington Post turns up more details about President Trump’s businesses.

1. Does President Trump still own his company?


But he’s not in day-to-day control of it.

The president put the Trump Organization into a trust, overseen by his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump and another executive. They promised to run the company on their own. The president would get reports with only the most basic details about the company — such as its overall profits and losses.

In theory, this was supposed to “completely isolate” (in the words of one of Trump’s lawyers) the president from the management of his businesses — and from the conflicts of interest that the businesses might force upon him.

In practice, it has not been that simple.

The trust arrangement has still allowed for ample contact between Trump and his businesses. He visited Trump properties on 116 days last year, according to a count by The Post’s Philip Bump. Trump still knows who many of the Trump Organization’s partners and customers are. And the president still has access to the money his businesses make: as first reported by ProPublica, Trump’s trust allows him to withdraw money from any business at any time.

2. How many properties does President Trump have his name on?

About 50, around the world.

3. But how many of those buildings does Trump own?

About 20.

Those include many of the Trump-branded golf courses, the Trump Winery, Trump Tower in New York and the Trump Building on Wall Street. Beyond those, Trump also owns significant chunks of several condominium buildings — enough to allow him to dominate the condo boards that control those properties.

The rest of the buildings — about 23 — are owned by others, who pay (or paid) Trump to license his name. That growth-through-licensing strategy once provided an easy source of income for Trump, with low risk.

Since Election Day 2016, two new Trump-branded properties have opened: a hotel in Vancouver and a golf course in Dubai, both licensed properties owned by others. But as Trump’s politics have polarized his brand, owners have taken the Trump name down from three apartment buildings in New York, plus hotels in Panama, Toronto and Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. The hotel in Panama was the latest to debrand, in early March. Its owner blamed Trump’s toxic brand and the Trump Organization’s management for declining revenues.

4. Wait, I thought Trump was going to profit from the presidency. Have his businesses actually done better or worse?

Both, it appears.

Some businesses — those frequented by Trump personally — have enjoyed strong demand. Trump’s Washington hotel has attracted GOP fundraisers, pro-Trump activist groups and foreign embassies. Its rooms are about half-empty, according to a recent CNN report — which is unusually low for a D.C. hotel. But it has overcome polarization by charging uncommonly high prices to those who want to stay. The last government report on that hotel, made public last year by accident, showed the Trump D.C. hotel’s profits were smashing expectations.

But other Trump businesses have struggled.

His golf courses in California, New York, Scotland and Ireland have reported declining revenue, as charity tournaments and average golfers stay away. Trump condo prices have fallen in New York City and Chicago. Outside D.C., Trump hotels seem to be dropping their room rates (one survey found Trump Hotels to be the most polarizing brand in America).

At Mar-a-Lago, initiation fees doubled, which was good for the Trump bottom line. But then 19 of the club’s banquet customers canceled expensive charity fundraisers during the backlash after Trump said there were “very fine people” among those involved in violent protests to save a Confederate statue in Charlottesville.

Does that mean the Trump Organization is making money overall, or losing money?

Only the company can answer that question.

And, so far, it hasn’t.

5. How much money does the president owe — and to whom does he owe it?

We can’t answer that question with certainty.

Here’s what we know: The personal financial disclosure form that Trump filed with the government last year listed at least $315 million in loans connected to various Trump buildings. The biggest lender was Deutsche Bank. That debt figure is likely low: The highest possible value a loan could have on the federal form is “over $50 million.” Trump had several loans that fit into that category whose true value could be far larger than $50 million.

So what is the actual size of Trump’s debt?

The New York Times estimated in August 2016 that Trump’s actual debt might be more than $650 million — and that estimate did not include loans for Trump’s expensive, money-losing golf courses in Ireland and Scotland. The identities of Trump’s creditors are often obscured by complex real estate transactions and shell companies.

6. Is Trump getting business from the federal government? What about from his political supporters?


And Yes.

When he visits his own businesses, Trump brings along an entourage of aides and military personnel — who often spend taxpayer money while they’re visiting. CNN reported that the Defense Department had spent about $140,000 at Trump businesses. About a third of that total, CNN reported, appeared to have been spent at Mar-a-Lago, where Trump has repeatedly visited. Thousands of dollars more appeared to have been spent by everyday Pentagon employees traveling for business: the government said they had selected Trump properties from a menu of hotel options on a government travel-booking system.

Trump’s businesses have received even more income from political clients — including Trump’s own campaign, the Republican National Committee, and a Pro-Trump super PAC.

The RNC, for instance, paid about $117,000 to hold a holiday party at Trump’s D.C. hotel in 2016 and an additional $167,000 to hold Trump’s first reelection fundraiser there last summer. In January 2018, the party also held a lavish fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago; the price for that event has not yet been disclosed.

In addition, Trump’s hotels and clubs have hosted events for individual GOP candidates and lawmakers, national Republican campaign committees, and an association of GOP state attorneys general. These events, costing tens of thousands, have replaced some of the business Trump has lost from groups that are now shying away from his brand.

7. Have foreign governments spent money at Trump properties?


The Saudi government, for instance, spent almost $270,000 at Trump’s D.C. hotel in the months after the 2016 election, according to federal filings from its lobbying firm. The payments came as the Saudi government sought to water down a law that allows U.S. families to sue the Saudi government over its alleged support for the terrorists behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Saudis paid for banquet rooms, hotel rooms and catering for military veterans flown in to lobby for a change in the law, in news first reported by Politico and the Daily Caller.

Just days after the election, the Trump hotel in D.C. was wooing foreign embassies. So far, the hotel has hosted events paid for by the embassies of Bahrain, Kuwait and Azerbaijan. Kuwait returned to the Trump D.C. hotel for a second event in February 2018. The prime minister of Malaysia also appeared to stay at the hotel during his visit to meet Trump.

8. Is Trump breaking the law with his business dealings?

That question has now been put to the courts.

The most prominent court challenge was brought by the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland. They allege that Trump is violating the Constitution’s “emoluments clauses,” which prohibit presidents from taking gifts from foreign governments or individual U.S. states.

The idea behind these clauses was to keep presidents from being tempted to favor one state over another, or a foreign country over their own.

The lawsuits argue that Trump is doing just that, because his D.C. hotel does business with both foreign embassies and visiting state officials.

So far, no court has ruled on what the word “emolument” means in practice. Does the Constitution really bar Trump from renting hotel rooms and banquet halls to visiting leaders or state governors, if they pay him a fair market price? Or does it merely bar Trump from taking outright gifts? And who has the legal standing to enforce this rule against a president?

In late March, a federal judge allowed the lawsuit from the attorneys general to proceed — rejecting Trump’s argument that they lacked the standing to sue him in the first place. Now, D.C. and Maryland want permission to search the Trump Hotel’s files, and determine exactly who its business partners are.

9. Has President Trump released his tax returns?


9a. Would we be able to answer these questions more clearly if he did?