If anyone thought (or pretended to think) that President Donald Trump had fully divested himself of his businesses and embraced the presidential paycheck, think again.
As reported by ProPublica, a clause, small enough to be conveniently overlooked, was found hidden amongst the language of a trust document between the Trump Organization and the United States government, signed on Feb. 10.
The clause states on page 161:
"The Trustees shall distribute net income or principle to Donald J. Trump at his request, as the Trustees deem necessary for his maintenance, support or uninsured medical expenses, or as the Trustees otherwise deem appropriate."
There is no stipulation requiring that Trump disclose any of these transactions between himself and his trustees (his son, Donald Jr., and the company's chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg), and so he could theoretically benefit directly from his businesses while in office without the public ever knowing.
We can only speculate as to why Trump added this clause into the document, as neither he nor his "former" organization has been forthcoming. In a statement to ProPublica, a Trump Organization spokesperson named Amanda Miller said that "President Trump believed it was important to create multiple layers of approval for major actions and key business decisions."
Obviously, the income from his businesses would benefit Trump, affording him the luxury he is accustomed to. If he is indeed still receiving profit from his businesses, it would be a huge help to the American taxpayer if he started footing those trips to Mar-A-Lago and Melania's refusal to leave New York City — a pipe dream.
However, the income could also benefit Trump in another way that does nothing but amplify many people's concerns about his conflicts of interests: ProPublica notes that it could allow him to see how his businesses are carrying on, supposedly without him.
The trust document states that the "trustees shall not provide any report to Donald J. Trump on the holdings and sources of income of the Trust." However, in a March 24 interview with Forbes, Eric Trump, who is listed as an adviser to the trust, said that he would keep his father updated on the businesses, but only on "the bottom line, profitability reports, and stuff like that, but, you know, that's about it." There is no way to enforce the content of these father-son talks.
Richard Painter, former chief ethics lawyer to George W. Bush, told Forbes that it is exactly as murky as it seems:
"It doesn't matter how much of the management is being delegated. Things are always delegated in business, down to who the hotel clerk is at the Trump hotel. But at the end of the day, he owns the business. He has the conflicts that come with it."
And, apparently, the profits, too.