Being a government watchdog during Trump's presidency is kind of like living in a nightmare for one key reason: The president has refused to divest himself from his business assets, instead placing them in a trust and handing off operations to his two sons. In January, Trump's lawyer said the president would be "completely isolating himself from his business interests"—but it turns out that he can withdraw money from his businesses at any point, for any reason, without telling the public, ProPublica reports.
In early February, the terms of the trust were discreetly revised to allow its trustees, Donald Jr. and attorney Allen Wisselberg, to "distribute net income or principal" from the Trump Organization to Trump "at his request" or whenever the trustees "deem appropriate." Additionally, he's not required to disclose if and when he taps into those funds because the corporation is private.
"For tax purposes, it's as if the trust doesn't exist at all," Steven Rosenthal, an expert with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told ProPublica. "It's just an entity on paper, nothing more."
The revelation presents a thorny conflict-of-interest problem. Not only can Trump see how his more than 400 businesses are doing, thanks to regular updates from his son Eric—he can now actually reap the profits from them. Hypothetically, the president could also use info about his businesses to pursue policies that would improve them.
But the Trump Organization doesn't seem to see it that way. According to a statement from company spokeswoman Amanda Miller, the trust creates "multiple layers of approval for major actions and key business decision[s]."
Although Trump's lawyer assured the public the president will be blind to what's happening with his businesses, the president himself has said he could manage the country and his company simultaneously if he really wanted to.
"I could actually run my business and run government at the same time," Trump said in January. "I don't like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to."
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