Over his long career in business, Donald Trump took a minimalist approach to ethics. He stiffed contractors, dodged creditors, slapped his name on projects that he had almost nothing to do with, and treated his federal tax bills like parking tickets. He did the bare minimum, in other words, to avoid being hauled into court as a cheat.
Trump made little effort to hide his scofflaw attitude during the campaign. Instead, he framed it as a strength. Dodging taxes “makes me smart,” he bragged during a televised debate. If he’d chosen to pay up, the money “would be squandered.” And, unlike every major-party presidential candidate from Ronald Reagan on, Trump refused to release his tax returns.
A few days before Trump took office, he did spend a few minutes talking in public about ethics. On January 11, standing behind a desk with a theatrically high pile of documents and manila folders, Trump announced that he would step aside and hand control of the Trump Organization to his two sons and a company lawyer. “The president-elect will have no role in deciding whether the Trump Organization engages in any new deal,” said Sheri Dillon, a tax lawyer who Trump hired to manage potential conflicts of interest. Dillon spoke of “the wall that we are building between President-elect Trump and the Trump Organization.” Her promises fell well short of putting Trump’s assets in a blind trust. Instead, Trump’s business would be controlled by his family and chief financial officer. It later turned out that he would even be able to withdraw money from his businesses at his liking without any disclosure, according to documents filed by Trump in February and reported on in April by ProPublica.
Dillon was essentially promising some ethical baby steps. At first, it looked as though Trump was going to abide by her plan. Shortly after his inauguration, he released a letter, dated January 19. It appeared to show him resigning from more than 400 corporate entities connected to the Trump Organization’s businesses. Alex Garten, a Trump Organization lawyer, told CNN that the Trump Organization would update the company’s official state records “in the ordinary course as and when required by law.”
Now, a review of state corporate records by The Intercept shows that the “wall” between Trump’s presidency and his businesses is even flimsier than what Dillon had promised. As of June 11, six months after Trump’s press conference, New York state continued to have Donald J. Trump listed as CEO or president at four different entities — all of which he previously claimed to have resigned from. Two of those entities made new filings on June 29 and June 30 that replaced Trump’s leadership with his immediate family and employees. The new filings were made after repeated phone calls and emails from The Intercept to the White House and the Trump Organization asking why Trump was still listed on state documents as being in charge of four Trump Organization entities.
Trump, it seems, couldn’t even be bothered to promptly follow through on the very small promises made by Dillon to create the appearance of some separation between his presidency and his businesses. True to form, Trump promised the bare minimum and did even less.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, said that Trump’s tardy filings were another indication that his “business entanglements” have led to a lack of accountability and transparency. “I agreed with President Trump when he said that no one is above the law,” Cummings said in a recent statement to The Intercept. “That principle applies to him as well. He must fix this.” Cummings has repeatedly pressed the White House for more information on Trump’s businesses, particularly in relation to the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which prohibits the president from accepting gifts from other countries. Trump is now facing three lawsuits that claim he is violating it.
As of mid-June, Trump Las Vegas Corp., a corporation registered in Nevada, continued to have Donald J. Trump listed as its president and director. On June 29, after The Intercept placed multiple calls and emails to the White House and the Trump Organization, Trump Las Vegas Corp. filed an amendment replacing Trump with his son Donald Trump Jr.
A company called 3126 Corporation, which is registered in New York, continued to have Donald J. Trump listed as its chief executive officer through mid-June. According to New York law, corporations are required to file a biennial statement including changes to the company’s leadership once every two years. 3126 Corporation, which was supposed to file an updated statement in May, was overdue. On June 30, 3126 Corporation filed its biennial statement replacing Trump with Michael Levchuck as CEO. 3126’s mailing address is care of the Trump International Hotel and Tower on Central Park. Levchuck’s LinkedIn profile lists him as “director of finance at Trump International Hotel.” Nevertheless, Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, told The Intercept by email that 3126 Corporation is controlled by a condominium board and “not the Trump Organization.”
Two more companies — Trump Ferry Point Member Corp. and Trump Empire State Inc. — are Delaware corporations registered to do business in New York. They continue to have Donald J. Trump listed as chief executive officer on their New York paperwork. Garten said these two corporations had updated their Delaware filings and that “the applicable filings for those entities in New York have been requested.” In Delaware, Trump’s son Eric is listed as president of Trump Empire State Inc. while another son, Donald Jr., is listed as director of Trump Ferry Point Member Corp.
“You need to contact the Trump Organization,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the principal deputy White House press secretary, in an email statement to The Intercept. The Trump Organization responded with a pat affirmation of the initial resignations. “President Trump has resigned from all entities as previously stated and reflected on his public financial disclosure form,” a spokesperson for the Trump Organization wrote in an email.
Richard Painter, who served as the White House’s chief ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, said that the failure to file updated state paperwork was a sign that Trump does not take ethics very seriously. “This shows the sloppiness Trump’s organization has with respect to ethics requirements. They don’t even want to do what they’ve said they’re going to do. They should be correcting the filings. People ought to be able to look and see who has the authority to act on behalf of these companies.”
Trump appears to have taken his pledge more seriously for some companies and less seriously for others. For many of the entities listed in his January letter, Trump has followed through on his promise to file new paperwork. As reported by ProPublica in January, the Trump Organization filed new paperwork with the state of Florida for more than a dozen companies immediately after the inauguration. For the four companies listed above, however, Trump was listed as an officer on state paperwork more than six months after his January resignation letter and contrary to statements made on his most recent ethics form, which Trump signed on June 14, and which claims that he resigned from all four of the above posts in January.
The Office of Government Ethics, which helps the president and other officials fill out ethics forms, declined to comment on the record. Federal law does not require the office to audit ethics reports for accuracy, only to review them. Walter Shaub, the office’s head, resigned last week. Shaub had recommended that Trump liquidate his businesses and said that Trump’s own ethics plan “doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the past four decades has met.”
While it can be difficult to tell how the four companies fit into Trump’s vast portfolio of businesses, it appears from his ethics filings that at least two of them are connected to substantial assets. Trump Las Vegas Corp. is the “managing member” that controls two other Trump entities — Trump Las Vegas Member LLC and Trump Las Vegas Managing Member LLC. The latter controls Trump Ruffin LLC, which, working with casino mogul Phil Ruffin, has developed a tower with multimillion luxury condos on the Las Vegas strip. Trump Ferry Point Member Corp. appears to be connected to Trump Ferry Point LLC, which brought in more than $7 million in income from a public golf course concession in the Bronx. A web of trusts and shell companies controlled by Trump’s family continues to lease and manage a luxury hotel three blocks from the White House.