The Ever Deepening Rabbit Hole Of Donald Trump’s Conflicts of Interest
When in doubt, follow the money. Politicians lie, tweets enrage and confuse, but money is to people what facts are to news. Money doesn’t lie, and the manner in which people invest their money is a window into what that person values. As long as President-elect Donald Trump’s personal finances are directly affected by his political decisions, everything he does will be overshadowed by questions of motivation. Trump can tweet until his face turns blue, but most people do not trust decisions that benefit the people who make them.
Many actions taken by Trump have raised questions of conflicts of interest. Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration prompted a response from Turkish President Erdogan demanding removal of Trump’s name from Trump Towers in Turkey. Mr. Trump response praising Mr. Erdogan and his brutal crackdown after the coup last year seems to have swayed Mr. Erdogan and kept the Trump name on the buildings in Turkey.
Trump is also suing the U.S. government. Centering around a $1.7M tax bill, the lawsuit again brings Trump’s Old Post Office Hotel in DC into the spotlight as a reoccurring site of conflicts of interest.
The Washington Post reported that a long-stalled Trump Tower project in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and Argentina are now back on track following his election. In addition, continued meetings with Indian business partners and his debt to the Bank of China, raise broader concerns about whether or not he can successfully separate his business interests from his decisions as President.
While Mr. Trump has proposed removing himself from his companies’ operations, there are reports that he plans to keep a stake in his business and not fully divest. Even if Mr. Trump were to fully divest and turn his business over to his children, there are still many potential conflicts. Melania’s decision to stay in NY with her secret service detail has resulted in condominiums in Trump Tower being marketed as “the most secure building in Manhattan.”
Ivanka Trump was apparently in the midst of a business deal with a large Japanese retailer while she sat in on her father’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Donald Trump Jr. held private talks on working with Russia to end the war in Syria. Trump’s three children have been his top political advisors and Trump also relies on them to help run his business. How Trump will handle these conflicts of interest remains to be seen.
These conflicts are only the beginning. President-elect Trump’s assets are like an iceberg, we have no idea what hides beneath the surface. Unlike most of us, very little in Trump’s life is actually owned by him. Rather, a network of companies within companies within companies (yes, it’s companies all the way down) owns the helicopters and such in Trump’s life.
Trump’s financial disclosure forms indicate that he owns over 550 limited liability corporations (LLCs), and those LLCs own even more LLCs. Sparing you the rabbit hole of corporate structure and tax law, suffice to say that LLCs are not companies in the way you probably think about them. They are structured specifically to provide financial and liability protection to those who own them. There is no apparent reason for Mr. Trump to structure his finances in such a shell game unless he wishes to avoid paying taxes or being open about his worth.
Untangling President-elect Trump’s financials would take years, funding and patience. The American people will probably never actually know exactly how much Trump owns and owes. Even though we do not know the exact composition of Trump’s finances, the structure itself presents perhaps his most significant conflict of interest. Trump’s tax plan cuts taxes across the board, but the biggest winner would be Trump himself. The proposed plan would reduce taxes paid by individuals who pass their income through LLCs by 50%. This legislation blatantly benefits himself.
As tweetstorms rage around you and campaign promises are forgotten or adjusted, remember to follow the money. Trump’s proposed policies will affect his business holdings. Financial transparency is essential, which is why many are still calling for Trump to release his taxes. Whether or not Trump will release his taxes is unknown but one thing is for certain: During Trump’s presidency, it will be difficult to discern whether his proposals are meant for the good of the country or for the good of the jet-set crowd who fly on planes rented from their own LLCs.