Editor’s note: For our Jan/Feb/March 2018 issue, Nicole Narea walks through the ways in which Donald Trump spent his first year in office brazenly enriching himself and his businesses, making a mockery of the notion that the interests of the American people should come before the president’s own bottom line. While past presidents divested of their assets or placed them in a blind trust, Trump merely shifted day-to-day control of his business onto his sons, who continue to brief him, and placed his assets in a trust that he can withdraw from whenever he wants. Read Nicole’s article for an explanation of which conduct is clearly unconstitutional and which is technically legal but deeply improper.
The rate of misbehavior, by both the president and those hoping to curry his favor, has been dizzying to keep track of. Mainstream news organizations have done an impressive job documenting each instance of profiteering, but as far as we can tell, none have pulled them all together in one place. The following is our attempt to do just that. If there are any examples we’ve missed, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Corruption Type 1: Foreign Emoluments
“No person holding any office of profit or trust under [the United States], shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
Nov. 16, 2016: The Trump International Hotel hosts about 100 foreign diplomats for a tour, baiting them with champagne and sliders and sending them home with goody bags.
Dec. 7, 2016: The Kingdom of Bahrain hosts its National Day celebration at the Trump International Hotel.
Dec. 14, 2016: The Embassy of Azerbaijan hosts a Hanukkah party at the Trump International Hotel.
Jan. 23 – 26, 2017: An employee of Qorvis MSLGROUP, a firm hired by Saudi Arabia to lobby Congress to repeal a law allowing 9/11 victims to sue the kingdom, pays for at least one room at the Trump International Hotel.
Jan. 27, 2017: Trump issues a travel ban on nationals from seven majority-Muslim countries, notably excluding nations in which he himself has business interests. He also plugs the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland during an appearance with British Prime Minister Theresa May: “I happened to be in Scotland at Turnberry cutting a ribbon when Brexit happened and we had a vast amount of press there.”
Feb. 11, 2017: Trump hosts Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago Club, golfing 27 holes together and hashing out how to respond to news of a North Korean intermediate-range ballistic missile launch in the middle of the dining area. According to the White House, the cost of the visit is a “gift” from Trump to Abe—but there’s no way to know if that’s true.
Feb. 14, 2017: After promising as a candidate to recognize Taiwanese independence, Trump reverses course, pledging to Chinese President Xi Jinping that the U.S. will uphold the “One China” policy. Five days later, the Chinese government finally grants Trump a long-sought trademark protection. “If this isn’t a violation of the Emoluments Clause, I don’t know what is,” says Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Feb. 21, 2017: Trump wins three trademarks from the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property.
Feb. 22, 2017: The Kuwaiti Embassy hosts its National Day celebration at the Trump International Hotel for an estimated cost of $40,000 to $60,000, according to Reuters. The event was originally planned for the Four Seasons, but was switched to the Trump Hotel after the election—and pressure from the Trump Organization, according to ThinkProgress.
March 17, 2017: The Trump Organization announces that it won’t begin donating profits from foreign officials to the U.S. Treasury, as Trump promised, until 2018.
April 6, 2017: Kaha Imnadze, Georgia’s ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations, stays at the Trump International Hotel and tweets:
— Kaha Imnadze (@kahaimnadze) April 6, 2017
April 11, 2017: The New York Times reports that the Trump Organization has157 trademark applications pending in 36 countries.
Sept. 12, 2017: The Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his delegation are seen hobnobbing in meeting rooms at the Trump International Hotel, bringing in what the Washington Post estimates to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the Trump Organization. “Hotel staffers and Malaysian officials declined to say whether Najib and the other officials stayed overnight at the hotel, among the most expensive in Washington, or if they did stay, for how long,” the Post reports.
Oct. 22, 2017: Trump cashes in on an Irish golf tourism conference, in part sponsored by the governments of Ireland and Northern Ireland, held at the Trump International Golf Links & Hotel Doonbeg in Ireland.
On the same day, White House staffers try to talk Trump out of honoring China’s request to deport Guo Wengui, a billionaire Chinese dissident, by reminding the President that Guo was a member of Mar-a-Lago.
Oct. 26, 2017: A delegation of Japanese businessmen linked to the Japanese government hosts an aerospace and aviation summit in Palm Beach, concluding with dinner at Mar-a-Lago.
Oct. 28, 2017: The Washington Post reports that the Trump Organization is poised to open two residential projects in India, including a tower in Kolkata with apartments selling for up to $765,000 and another in Gurgaon with units starting at $1.8 million. The company’s pledge to make “no new foreign deals,” the Post notes, came “with an asterisk”: deals signed before Trump took office, like the one in India, can still move forward or be renewed.
Oct. 31, 2017: Mexico’s former U.S. ambassador Arturo Sarukhan tweets that the State Department is encouraging diplomats to stay at the Trump International Hotel during official visits.
Ongoing: The state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Trump Tower’s largest commercial tenant, pays nearly $2 million per year for office space. In 2019 it will have to renegotiate its lease.
Meanwhile, the governments of nations including Saudi Arabia, India, Afghanistan, and Qatar pay combined annual fees of at least $225,000 on Trump World Tower units purchased before Trump’s presidency.
Corruption Type 2: Domestic Emoluments
“The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”
–U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1
August 5, 2013: Trump Old Post Office LLC signs a 60-year lease with a government agency to open the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., from which Trump has yet to divest his interests.
Nov. 14, 2016: Six days after the election, Trump receives all-but final approval from the National Park Service for a $32 million historic preservation tax credit for the Trump International Hotel.
Jan. 1, 2017: Trump celebrates New Year’s Eve at Mar-a-Lago at an 800-guest event that costs over $500 per ticket.
Feb. 3, 2017: Trump spends the weekend at Mar-a-Lago with White House chief of staff Reince Preibus and chief strategist Steve Bannon, both of whom stay at the resort overnight.
Feb. 4, 2017: Trump spends the day golfing at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.
Feb. 7, 2017: The Washington Post reports that the Department of Defense is looking to rent a unit in Trump property to “support the POTUS at his residence in the building.”
Feb. 19, 2017: Trump interviews candidates to replace fired National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn at Mar-a-Lago after a morning on the links at the Trump International Golf Club.
Feb. 23, 2017: The New York police commissioner announces that it cost $24 million to protect Trump Tower between Election Day and Inauguration Day. First Lady Melania Trump and son Barron Trump will continue to reside there until moving to Washington, D.C. in June.
March-May, 2017: Maine Governor Paul LePage stays at Trump Hotel during a taxpayer-funded trip to Washington, spending at least $2,250 on accommodations at the hotel.
March 4, 2017: Flying down to Mar-a-Lago for the fourth weekend of his presidency, Trump receives a National Security Council briefing and conspires with administration officials to implement the second attempt at the travel ban. He takes a break with a few balls at the Trump International Golf Club.
March 11, 2017: Trump heads to the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia for a working lunch with members of his cabinet.
March 16, 2017: Trump proposes a 2018 budget that, while slashing funding for almost all non-defense agencies, would increase funding to the General Services Administration—which oversees the lease on the Trump International Hotel.
March 22, 2017: The Washington Post reports that the Secret Service, straining under the cost of providing security at Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago, has requested an additional $60 million in funding to protect the First Family.
February to April, 2017: The Secret Service pays at least $63,700 directly to Mar-a-Lago to account for Trump’s visits to the property.
April 7, 2017: Trump receives a briefing on a Syrian missile strike at Mar-a-Lago.
April 8, 2017: Trump chats with billionaires David and Bill Koch at Mar-a-Lago.
April 14, 2017: CBS News reports that the Secret Service has spent more than $190,000 on hotel rooms and car rentals while accompanying Trump’s sons on international trips since the beginning of the year. Citing the need for secrecy, the agency refuses to disclose how much of that money goes to Trump properties. But it’s pretty easy to guess where the money goes, especially the $35,185 spent on golf cart rentals “for POTUS visit” in Palm Beach County, Florida—home to a Trump golf course.
Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, 2017: Trump spends the weekend at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ.
Oct. 5, 2017: USA Today reports that the Secret Service’s golf cart tab at Trump properties has run to at least $137,505.
Oct. 7 – 9, 2017: Trump visits the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia three days in a row. On the third day, the White House breaks from usual practice and admits that Trump spent the day golfing with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
Oct. 14, 2017: Trump has dinner at the Trump International Hotel after another day golfing at his Virginia golf course with Graham.
Oct. 28, 2017: Trump spends the fourth weekend in a row at the Trump National Golf Club in Potomac, Virginia. He also has dinner with First Lady Melania Trump at the Trump International Hotel and stops by a birthday party for Ivanka Trump in a hotel suite.
Nov. 4, 2017: Trump visits the Trump International Hotel in Waikiki, Hawaii, marking what MSNBC reports is the 97th day he has spent at a Trump-owned property during his presidency.
Nov. 15, 2017: USA Today reports that, thanks to Trump’s refusal to divest from his businesses, the federal government has assigned at least 10 Justice Department lawyers and paralegals, at salaries ranging between $133,000 to $185,000 in public money, to defend Trump in four lawsuits alleging violations of the Emoluments Clause.
Corruption Type 3: Slimy, but Probably Legal
Federal ethics rules bar executive branch employees from receiving “gifts or gratuities” from private sources—but those rules don’t apply to the President.
Jan. 25, 2017: The annual membership rate at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort doubles from $100,000 to $200,000—a direct indication of Trump’s willingness to trade access for higher profits.
Feb. 4, 2017: After a morning of golf, Trump returns to Mar-a-Lago in the evening for the Red Cross’s “From Vienna to Versailles”- themed ball, which costs the Red Cross $400,000. Also in attendance are the First Lady, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, domestic and foreign ambassadors, and European nobility.
Feb. 7, 2017: The American Cancer Society—which spent more than $4.7 million lobbying the federal government in 2016—hosts a dinner for sponsors at Mar-a-Lago.
Feb. 18, 2017: Trump attends a cancer fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, spending the weekend there for the third time in his presidency. He asks developer Richard LeFrak, a member of the club, if he’ll work on a project to build a border wall with Mexico. Then, he hits the links at the Trump International Golf Club.
Feb. 21, 2017: Chinese-American executive Xiao Yen Chen—whose business focuses on “facilitat[ing] the right strategic relationships with the most prominent public and private decision makers in China,” according to its site—purchases a $15.8 million penthouse in a Trump Manhattan high-rise.
March 1, 2017: The National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association hosts a dinner at the Trump International Hotel, keeping the Trump-branded wine and coffee flowing. Earlier that day, Trump met with Mar-a-Lago member and Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy in the Oval Office.
March 5, 2017: The AP reports that rates at the Trump International Hotel have shot up to at least $500 per night, an increase in hundreds from before the election.
March 24, 2017: Palm Beach Republicans host their annual Lincoln Day Dinner at Mar-a-Lago.
May 5, 2017: After 14 straight weekends of presidential visits to Trump properties, Politico reports that Trump’s business properties have increased in value by 30 percent since his election, with value added each time he pays them a visit.
September, 2017: Defense contractor L3 Technologies announces that it will hold its annual management meeting at Trump National Doral in October. The company has spent almost $500,000 lobbying the federal government on matters relating to Department of Homeland Security operations and cyber security.
Sept. 13, 2017: Small Business Administration head Linda McMahon speaks at an event at hosted by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry at the Trump International Hotel— a fact that her staffers try to keep quiet.
Sept. 28, 2017: The Fund for American Studies, a conservative organization, hosts a lunch at the Trump International Hotel. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is the keynote speaker.
Oct. 3-4, 2017: The National Mining Association holds its board of directors meeting at the Trump International Hotel, where guest speakers included Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and Republican Senators Lisa Murkowsi and John Barasso.
Oct. 5, 2017: A commercial real estate trade association hosts an awards gala at Trump International Hotel sponsored by various lobbying agents.
Oct. 9, 2017: The Trump International Hotel in Chicago hosts a two-day manufacturing industry conference.
Oct. 11, 2017: The American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful conservative lobbying organization with heavy ties to the Koch brothers, announces that it will host its 45th anniversary gala at the Trump International Hotel in September, 2018, requesting sponsorship of up to $100,000 to fund the event.
Oct. 10-13, 2017: An insurance industry trade association holds its annual conference at the Trump National Doral in Miami.
Oct. 25, 2017: The private prison company GEO Group moves its annual leadership conference from Boca Raton, where it’s headquartered, to Trump National Doral in Miami. That’s after giving $225,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC another $250,000 to the president’s inaugural committee, and hiring several lobbyists tied to the Trump campaign and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. GEO Group’s stock has soared in the Trump era, thanks largely to Sessions’s decision to reverse an Obama administration move to phase out the use of private prisons
Nov. 8, 2017: Trump plugs his golf course during a speech in Seoul. “Korean golfers are some of the best on Earth,” he says. “And you know what I’m going to say — the women’s U.S. Open was held this year at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.” (The ostensible topic of the speech is foreign policy.)
Nov. 16, 2017: Washington, D.C.’s Museum of the Bible opens with a $50,000-per-table gala at the Trump International Hotel.
Dec. 31, 2017: Trump ends 2017 the way he started it: with a private gala at Mar-a-Lago. This time, tickets are up to $600 for club members and $750 for guests