Donald Trump made a big show of stepping away from his family business when he became president, but that façade of separation won’t prevent him from receiving a company check whenever he pleases.
That previously unknown arrangement is the result of a late addition to the existing structure of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, which was first spotted by ProPublica. The change, which quietly went into effect last month, stipulates that the trust “shall distribute net income or principal to Donald J. Trump at his request” or whenever his eldest son and longtime attorney—the two named trustees—“deem appropriate.” The original trust document designated Trump as its “exclusive beneficiary” but did not specify how or when Trump could access his money.
Put simply, the tweak means the president can now dip into his corporate bank accounts for any profits made by the hundreds of companies he owns, or even gain access to the underlying assets themselves. Furthermore, any money that Trump does take for himself won’t be public since both the trust and the Trump Organization are privately held—and because Trump continues to refuse to release his tax returns. The president won’t be required to file another financial disclosure form until May 2018, but that filing doesn’t actually require him to list his profits.
The revelation is the latest illustration of the emptiness of the president’s promise to “completely isolat[e]” himself from his business empire. The arrangement will make it possible for Trump to keep close tabs on the financial fortunes of his company despite his claim that he will be kept out of the loop. And it also makes it even more painfully obvious that Trump is still the one with the final say over what happens to the business empire that bears his name. As Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, put it to ProPublica: “For tax purposes, it’s as if the trust doesn’t exist at all. It’s just an entity on paper, nothing more.”