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A new report from the nonpartisan non-profit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) shows that President Trump has more than 2,300 conflicts of interest since he’s taken office — and counting. The conflicts stem from the president’s ties to his businesses, despite his claim that he divested when he took office.
According to the study, the president “has created an environment where the actions of his administration, and those trying to influence it, can benefit the globe-spanning real-estate and branding empire that he still profits from.” The report highlights over 2,300 specific conflicts of interest, but makes a point to note that the conflicts of interest that Trump has created are “at some level immeasurable.”
An unfathomable amount
CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz says that the figures CREW has compiled could, in reality, be higher. “There is quite possibly many things that we have not been able to see,” he told Yahoo Finance, adding that it’s “an unfathomable amount.”
“Presidents from both parties went out of their way not to have conflicts of interest,” he said. “This is a president who seems to be courting conflicts of interest,” noting that both Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush (President George W. Bush also divested) put all their money in a blind trust, “so there was no way they could be influenced by what they owned business-wise.”
When he became president, Trump ceded control of The Trump Organization, which includes hotels, golf resorts, and apartment buildings. But, CREW has pointed out, it doesn’t mean that Trump has divested.
When Trump became president, he created a revocable and non-blind trust. He’s allowed to remove money from it with permission of the trustee — his son, Donald Trump, Jr. – meaning that the president can still draw on the profits made by the business.
These conflicts of interest cover visits by the president, administration officials, members of Congress, and foreign heads of state to Trump properties as well as political events hosted at Trump hotels and golf courses. By CREW’s estimates, Trump has visited his own properties 362 times so far — at taxpayers’ expense. The report notes that the number of days the president has spent at a Trump-branded properties — including the Florida resort Mar-a-Lago and his golf course in Bedminster, N.J. — account for nearly a third of the time he’s been in office.
Other conflicts include visits from 111 officials from 65 foreign governments to Trump properties, and free publicity that CREW says the president has given his businesses while he’s been in office.
“Trump has tweeted about or mentioned one of his properties on 159 occasions,” CREW noted, “and White House officials have mentioned a Trump property 65 times, sometimes in the course of their official duties.”
According to the study, political groups have spent some $6 million at Trump properties. Previous analysis of Federal Election Commission filings by Yahoo Finance shows that Trump businesses were making money from his campaign. CREW said this represents a marked increase from before Trump took office: “In more than a decade prior to his run for president, Trump’s businesses never received more than $100,000 from political groups in a single year,” the report stated.
His 2016 campaign spent nearly $12 million on hotel stays, catering, rent, and more at Trump businesses, according to the New York Times.
Foreign governments and organizations linked to foreign governments have also visited Trump properties 12 times. According to CREW, those events were attended by at least 19 Trump administration officials.
Questions of legality
But just because it’s a conflict of interest doesn’t necessarily make it illegal. And Libowitz says it “depends” on the issue when matters of legality are raised. “For some of them, conflict of interest laws don’t apply to the president,” he said. “For some, there are emoluments issues.” (CREW is involved in a lawsuit against Trump for violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution; the suit is ongoing. Previous emoluments lawsuits from CREW were dismissed and are awaiting decisions on appeal.)
Libowitz says that when conflict of interest laws were written, lawmakers “never imagined” a president with a multinational, multibillion-dollar corporation to their name. And, he pointed out, it was a “norm” to have a president who avoided even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“Now you have a president who doesn’t,” he said. “And it has become a major problem.”
Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.