August 28, 2019
When Donald Trump left his position as head of the Trump Organization to take the oath of office, he was replaced atop his family business by…no one?
Wait, that can’t be right.
When the head of a company—or in this case, many companies—leaves the company, someone else takes their place. Either someone gets promoted, or someone gets hired, or someone is even given an interim title while the company engages in a national search. But someone has to do the job. And we know that Trump left the company, right? He produced a 19-page letter listing everything he resigned from. That’s a lot of companies to run. And he broke decades of tradition by not divesting from them when he assumed the presidency, so he clearly has a financial interest in their success.
So why can’t we find any evidence that his official role was filled at any of them?
Trump spokespeople have said that his two adult sons now run the companies, but Trump spokespeople have said a lot of things that have not necessarily been true. Let’s look at what the companies themselves say.
Look at the Trump Organization’s leadership bios from mid-2016 and now. They’ve got a shiny new website, but Eric and Don Jr. have the same old titles in 2019 that they had in mid-2016—Don Jr. even has an almost word for word bio.
Donald Trump’s title went from Chairman and President on the old site to Founder on the new one. So who is the Chairman and President of the Trump Organization if not Donald Trump or his adult sons?
Ok, that’s pretty weird. Let’s check out Trump International Realty, which for some reason has its own leadership page separate from the Trump Organization. In 2016 before the elections, it was Trump in charge and his adult children as Executive Vice Presidents, just like with the Trump Org. In April 2017, after Trump was in office and Ivanka joined him in the White House, Eric and Don Jr. were still…Executive Vice Presidents. They even had bios identical to their old ones.
Let’s take a look at it now.
Well, at least Don Jr. has a slightly different headshot.
According to the Trump Organization and to Trump himself, he did a whole lot of work running the family business, a business he continues to own and profit from. So why hasn’t anyone taken his old job? Could it be because he’s still working it? He did say that he could do both jobs at once: “In theory I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly.” So is he?
We do know that he spends relatively little of his day doing scheduled presidential work, and a lot of his time at his properties. As a candidate, Trump said that as president, “I’m not going to have time to go play golf.” In fact, making promotional appearances at his golf courses and other businesses has remained a key part of his schedule as president. In just two and a half years, Trump has made 362 appearances at his properties, 219 of them at his golf courses.
When he’s at those properties, he appears to be fulfilling Trump Organization marketing promises and checking in on the business. When a New York Times reporter visited Trump’s Bedminster golf club early in his presidency, she was given a marketing brochure that pledged that if you booked the club for a wedding on a day the president was on-site, “he will likely stop in & congratulate the happy couple. He may take some photos with you.” And he’s fulfilled that pledge, recently dropping by multiple weddings at the club.
Promoting his businesses remains a priority for Trump. He has used his Twitter account dozens of times—which the White House says are official presidential statements—to promote his clubs, going so far as to say that they help American foreign relations. He’s even gone so far as to push to hold the G7 meeting of world leaders at his struggling Doral golf course.
Despite there being a hypothetical, if hard to prove, “firewall” between the Trump administration and the Trump Organization, Eric Trump has said that he would give his father regular updates on the business, something, say, an Executive Vice President would do for the Chairman and President of a company.
The Trumps claim that it is fine that Trump gets information on the business, because he still owns the company, he just has nothing to do with it (again, only according to them). But the thing is, they also claim his ownership is in a blind trust, which is neither blind nor what we’ve come to view as a presidential trust. It’s not blind because he knows exactly what assets are in the trust, and it’s not what we tend to think of as a presidential trust, because he can take money out with his son’s signature. Presidents put their assets in a blind trust so that Americans do not need to worry that their decisions are conflicted by their bottom line. If this were anything approaching a blind trust for someone completely removed from his business, there would be no need to give Trump regular updates on how his business is doing.
According to an email from the director of revenue management for the Trump Hotel in Washington obtained by The Daily Beast, Trump “is supposed to be out of the business and passed on to his sons, but he’s definitely still involved…I had a brief meeting with him a few weeks ago, and he was asking about banquet revenues and demographics. And, he asked if his presidency hurt the businesses. So, he seems self aware about things, at least more than he lets on.”
It makes sense that he’d want to stay involved in his business empire; he’s spent a career building it up, after all. And the two major hotel projects developed by his sons—Scion and American Idea—have ended in abject failure. It’s pretty clear that Trump intends to return to his business empire once he leaves office, and still stands to profit from it, so he’s certain to be concerned about the state of the business he’s returning to, which raises questions if he ever had any real intention of truly separating himself from his businesses. And that means business conflicts are a feature, not a bug of his presidency.