Before he took office, Donald Trump said he would not accept his presidential salary. An aide said he would donate the money instead.
The Trump Organization — the president’s global real estate and branding business — pledged not to keep any profits that it made by renting hotel rooms and banquet halls to foreign governments. Those proceeds, Trump’s attorney said, would be given to the U.S. treasury.
And the committee that raised a record $90 million for Trump’s inauguration pledged that, after running a no-frills celebration, the remaining funds would be given to charity.
In all three cases, these pledges of generosity seemed designed to allay a concern about Trump expressed by some critics — that this wealthy president, who had refused to relinquish ownership of his businesses, might use his public office to enrich himself or his friends.
But nearly two months into the Trump presidency, little information has been released to show how, or if, those promises are being kept.
On Friday, for instance, the Trump Organization said it would not make its donations until the end of each calendar year. A spokeswoman provided few specifics about how the amount would be calculated.
Earlier in the week, the White House seemed to acknowledge that Trump has been keeping his monthly paycheck. He still intends to give the money away at year’s end, said press secretary Sean Spicer, but Trump has not yet chosen a charity to receive it.
The Trump inaugural committee has provided no details about what it plans to donate.
If “you have promised to take steps that would at least lessen the appearance of impropriety, and then you don’t take those steps, it would affect my evaluation of him,” said Erik Jensen, a professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland who has studied conflict-of-interest rules.
Trump’s charitable promises have sparked controversy in the past.
Washington Post reports last year highlighted past Trump promises of charity that months later had not come to fruition. In January 2016, for instance, Trump said he had donated $1 million of his own money — and raised an additional $5 million from others — for veterans’ charities. But Trump did not make good on his $1 million promise until four months later, under pressure from the media. Before he actually paid, Trump’s campaign manager made a false claim that the money had already been spent.
During last year’s presidential campaign, The Post also showed that Trump had spent years promising large donations to charity — building a public reputation as a man whose generosity was as impressive as his wealth.
But The Post found little evidence to show Trump’s actual generosity matched his boasting.
The Post called 450 charities that seemed close to the candidate — nonprofit groups that he had praised on Twitter or that had paid him to rent banquet space. It asked whether each had received a gift from Trump’s own pocket. That search turned up one donation from Trump himself between 2008 and 2015 — a gift of less than $10,000 to the Police Athletic League in New York City.
Trump, who boasted frequently as a candidate about his wealth, promised early in the campaign not to take his presidential pay.
“I’m accepting no salary,” he told a crowd in New Hampshire in September 2015. “That’s not a big deal for me.”
But the Constitution requires the president to be compensated.
So last month, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told PolitiFact that Trump would indeed take the money — but then give it back, or give it away.
“He is required to get a paycheck but will be giving it back to [the] treasury or donating,” Sanders told the fact-checking site.
Presidents are paid monthly. Trump’s $400,000 annual salary works out to about $33,333 per month before taxes.
On Monday, Spicer offered reporters a new explanation for what Trump intends to do with the money.
“The president’s intention right now is to donate his salary at the end of the year,” Spicer said, in response to a question from One America News Network reporter Trey Yingst. “And he has kindly asked that you all help determine where that goes. The way that we can avoid scrutiny is to let the press corps determine where it should go.”
The White House press office did not respond to questions from The Post about why Trump is waiting until year’s end to donate the money when charities might prefer to have the funds now.
The White House has also not offered any more details about how the news media might make its suggestions.
The Trump Organization’s promise to donate profits from foreign governments was made in January as part of the company’s plan to avoid violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause. That provision, written to keep foreign states from paying off U.S. leaders, bars officials from taking “emoluments” from foreign governments.
Company lawyer Sheri Dillon said this provision was meant to stop straight-up gifts. She said it should not be applied to cases where a Trump hotel rents a room to a foreign embassy.
“Paying for a hotel room is not a gift or a present, and it has nothing to do with his office,” Dillon said. “It’s not an emolument.”
But, to be extra careful, Dillon said the Trump Organization would “voluntarily donate all profits from foreign-government payments made to his hotel” to the U.S. treasury. That is the same place taxpayers send their money.
“This way, it is the American people who will profit,” Dillon said on Jan. 11.
Since then, the Trump Organization has not said more about how this setup would work.
Which Trump businesses, exactly, would have to give back their profits? The company’s name is on a number of golf courses, hotels and condominiums, a beachfront social club and a winery. How would the business separate out “profits” on the transactions with foreign states?
On Feb. 22, Trump’s D.C. hotel hosted the Kuwaiti Embassy for its National Day celebration, bringing more than 600 people to the chandelier-adorned ballroom. The event probably earned the Trump Organization tens of thousands of dollars in revenue, based on prevailing rates for luxury ballroom space in Washington.
A communications firm also booked guest rooms at the hotel in January that were paid for by the government of Saudi Arabia, according to Politico.
There are other examples in which the Trump Organization is likely to be accepting foreign payments. For instance, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a state-owned entity, rents space at Trump Tower on a lease signed well before Trump ran for office.
In a statement to The Post on Friday, the Trump Organization said through a spokeswoman that it “has developed and is implementing its policy to identify profits from foreign-government patronage at our hotels and similar businesses within the scope of the policy.” The spokeswoman said the company would rely on standard accounting practices for the hotel industry.
The third promise, by the Trump inaugural committee, was made as the group was soliciting donations of $1 million or more from corporations and wealthy individuals. In return, donors were promised exclusive access to meals and events with Cabinet nominees and the president and vice president.
The effort eventually raised more than $90 million — and drew questions about whether a president who ran on a promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington was now selling access to his inner circle.
“For the 58th Presidential Inaugural, any and all funds raised above amounts needed to fund the Inaugural events will be donated to charitable organizations,” wrote Boris Epshteyn, a spokesman for the inaugural committee, in November.
Epshteyn now works in the White House. This week, another spokesman for the inaugural committee, Alex Stroman, said that the books were still being closed out and that details would be released by late April.
This week, one other entity connected to Trump did provide details of a promised donation to charity. That was his presidential campaign committee, which had accepted two anonymous campaign donations above the $50 limit allowed by federal law.
The campaign notified the Federal Election Commission that it had found these gifts. FEC rules required that the extra money be given away.
It was. This week Michael Glassner, the Trump campaign’s executive director, said it had donated a total of $450 to the American Red Cross.
Matea Gold contributed to this report.