Donald Trump Brings His “Blind Trust” to Meeting with Tech Executives

Every day is “take your kids to work day” when you’re Donald Trump — at least it’s starting to seem that way. The president-elect met Wednesday with top technology executives in Trump Tower in New York City, and it turned out that his adult children Ivanka, Donald Jr., and Eric Trump had come along for the ride:

Also in the room were Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Larry Page and Eric E. Schmidt of Google parent Alphabet, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, along with several other tech leaders.

Notably, Trump has vowed to put his business in a “blind trust” run by Donald Jr. and Eric. Already the “blindness” of such a trust is suspect as a true blind trust is run by an independent trustee — and typically, not trustees that accompany the U.S. president to major conversations about the tech industry.

 

Trump Foundation Admits to Self-Dealing in New Tax Filing

President-elect Donald Trump’s charitable foundation transferred assets to a disqualified person, possibly Trump himself, according to a 2015 tax filing submitted to the nonprofit watchdog group GuideStar and posted online Tuesday.

Trump has been under heavy scrutiny in recent months for using tax-exempt foundation money to pay for personal expenses, such as legal settlements with governments and personal expenses, including paintings of himself.

On page five of the Donald J. Trump foundation’s 2015 tax filing, the preparers checked the “yes” box to the question about whether the New York-based nonprofit organization had transferred “any income or assets to a disqualified person (or make any of either available for the benefit or use of a disqualified person.”

The preparers checked yes again in another box that asked if the foundation had transferred money to disqualified people in previous years. Trump signed past filings under penalty of perjury, and the forms for several earlier years indicated the foundation had not transferred money to a disqualified person.

The IRS Manual states that transactions involving a disqualified person “bears importantly upon the treatment and status of exempt organizations as private foundations in several situations.”

It was unclear Tuesday whether the nation’s tax agency had received an identical document from Trump’s nonprofit. The IRS said it could not discuss any tax filing or comment on whether the tax agency was investigating the person or organization associated with a filing.

Trump presidential transition spokespersons also did not immediately respond to questions from USA TODAY.

However, the apparent admission of self-dealing “could be assessed as an IRS penalty against the person who received the benefit, potentially at three times the value,” said Robert McKenzie, a tax law expert who is a partner at the Arnstein & Lehr law firm in Chicago.

The IRS potentially could also seek penalties against the directors of the foundation — who include Trump and three of his children — “for allowing such a transaction,” said McKenzie.

However, attorneys for charitable organizations often are able to negotiate lower penalties than those proposed by the IRS, said McKenzie.

The foundation’s new admission could potentially result in separate penalties by state agencies that oversee the nonprofit, added McKenzie. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had been conducting an examination of filings submitted by Trump’s charitable organization.

That investigation is continuing, Amy Spitalnick, Schneiderman’s press secretary, said Tuesday.

Schneiderman last month ordered the foundation to cease any fundraising in New York, saying the charity had not filed the required registration with his office.

The New York official also demanded, and received, written confirmation that the foundation would pay no part of the $25 million settlement reached last week over fraud allegations against Trump University — the now-defunct real estate training program created by the billionaire developer and reality television star.

According to Guidestar spokesperson Jackie Enterline Fekeci, the new tax filing was “was uploaded by a representative from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP directly onto the foundation’s GuideStar Nonprofit Profile on November 18. We allow organizations to submit their 990’s voluntarily because sometimes the form’s route through the IRS causes a delay before we get the officially filed version. We do that in the good faith that the version they upload onto GuideStar is identical to the version they submit to the IRS.”

The Washington Post has reported in great detail about problems with the Trump foundation and its spending, citing how it paid $258,000 in foundation money to settle Trump’s personal legal issues. The Post was the first to report on the new filings Tuesday.

The 2015 tax filing showed that Trump’s company donated $566,370 to the foundation last year, while it received another $50,000 from Trump Productions LLC.

It’s possible these contributions came from Trump, because they listed the donations as coming from a “person.” These contributions are the first that Trump or his companies have made to Trump’s own charity since 2008. His foundation’s tax return for 2008 showed a $30,000 contribution from Donald J. Trump, care of The Trump Organization.

The foundation’s new filing also show the nonprofit received $150,000 from the British office of a foundation run by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, who owns four Ukrainian television stations and a variety of industrial companies. Pinchuk and his foundation were donors to the foundation run by former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the defeated Democratic nominee for president, Clinton Foundation records show.

Trump spoke at a conference in Ukraine in 2015 hosted by Pinchuk. Then, according to a report in Politico, he said: “Viktor, by the way, is a very, very special man, a special entrepreneur. When he was up seeing me I said, ‘I think I can learn more from you than you can learn from me.’”

(h/t USA Today)

Links

Trump Foundation 2015 990 form

Trump Urged UK Leader to Oppose Wind Farm Near His Golf Course

President-elect Donald Trump used a post-election meeting with interim United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage to express opposition to wind farms in the United Kingdom, according to The New York Times.

Trump has long been against a wind farm constructed near his golf course in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, even fighting unsuccessfully all the way to Great Britain’s highest court to block it, The New York Times said Monday.

The story broke Monday night, at the same time the president-elect tweeted about his business interests.

“Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world.Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!” he wrote.

He followed that message up with a second tweet praising Farage and suggesting, “Many people would like to see @Nigel_Farage represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States.”

Trump met with Farage on Nov. 12 at Trump Tower in New York City, following his shocking White House win.

Farage, who helped spearhead the Brexit campaign for Britain to leave the the European Union (EU), is a longtime supporter of Trump and his Republican presidential campaign.

Andy Wigmore, who was present during the pair’s meeting, said Sunday that Trump wanted Farage to campaign against new wind farm developments in the U.K.

“But one thing Mr. Trump kept returning to was the issue of wind farms,” he said, according to The Sun. “He is a complete Anglophile and also absolutely adores Scotland, which he thinks is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.”

“But [Trump] is dismayed that his beloved Scotland has become overrun with ugly wind farms which he believes are a blight on the stunning landscape,” added Wigmore, who lead communications for Leave.EU, one of two groups leading the Brexit effort.

“It is clear that it is an issue he is very passionate about and not because he is against renewable energy or green technology but because he genuinely thinks wind farms are damaging Scotland’s natural beauty.”

The Times notes that Trump owns two golf courses in Scotland, Trump Turnberry and Trump International Golf Links, the second of which is located in the village of Balmedie, near Aberdeenshire.

Trump’s business empire is facing new scrutiny after his White House win, with critics fretting that it may become a conflict of interest for his incoming administration.

The timing and content of his Monday night tweet about Farage raised eyebrows on social media, with Guardian reporter Jon Swaine noting saying the suggestion of Farage as ambassador “publicly disrespect[s]” the current ambassador and could be seen as “preempting the Queen.”

(h/t The Hill)

Trump on Business Conflicts: You Knew Who You Were Voting For

As Donald Trump assured us during the campaign, someday he’ll turn his business into a “blind trust” operated by his children (right after they change the definition of what a “blind trust” is). For now, it appears Trump is still looking out for his own business interests by combining them with the interests of the president-elect.

The latest example comes from the New York Times, which reported on Monday evening that during a meeting with Nigel Farage days after the election, Trump encouraged the British politician and his pro-Brexit entourage to oppose offshore wind farms that threaten to ruin the view at one of his Scottish golf courses. Last year, Trump lost a long legal battle to block the construction of a wind farm near his resort.

“He did not say he hated wind farms as a concept; he just did not like them spoiling the views,” said Andy Wigmore, a media consultant who attended the meeting. Wigmore said he and his associates were already opposed to wind farms, but Trump “did suggest that we should campaign on it” and “spurred us in and we will be going for it.”

Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks initially denied the report, then stopped responding when informed that Wigmore described the conversation with Trump. But Trump took matters into his own hands, blasting the “crooked media” for focusing on his conflicts of interest. He tweeted, a short time after the Times story was published:

But the next day Mr. Trump was acknowledging a recent meeting with the British politician Nigel Farage, in which, The Times reported, he “encouraged Mr. Farage and his entourage to oppose the kind of offshore wind farms that Mr. Trump believes will mar the pristine view from one of his two Scottish golf courses.”

Pressed about his business interests, Mr. Trump also said, “In theory I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly.”

 

(h/t New York Magazine)

Trump Uses Argentine Congratulatory Call to Push Through Permits

Over the weekend, there were a flurry of stories about how Donald Trump and his family are already using the presidency to leverage his overseas businesses as well as his new DC hotel. Well, now there’s more. This time in Argentina.

Here’s the background.

For a number of years, Trump and his Argentine partners have been trying to build a major office building in Buenos Aires. The project has been held up by a series of complications tied to financing, importation of building materials and various permitting requirements.

According to a report out of Argentina, when Argentine President Mauricio Macri called President-Elect Trump to congratulate him on his election, Trump asked Macri to deal with the permitting issues that are currently holding up the project.

This comes from one of Argentina’s most prominent journalists, Jorge Lanata, in a recent TV appearance. Lanata is quoted here in La Nacion, one of Argentina’s most prestigious dailies. Said Lanata: “Macri called him. This still hasn’t emerged but Trump asked for them to authorize a building he’s constructing in Buenos Aires, it wasn’t just a geopolitical chat.”

(For Spanish speakers, here’s the original Spanish we’ve translated: “Macri llo llamó. Todavía no se contó pero Trump le pidió que autorizaran un edificio que él está construyendo en Buenos Aires, no fue solo una charla geo política.”)

Separately, Trump’s business partner on the project, Felipe Yaryura, was there on election night at the Trump celebration in New York City.

Why aren’t we hearing about this in the American press?

Well, remember, no one knew anything about the visit from Trump’s Indian business partners until it appeared in the Indian press either. It seems like this is likely happening on many fronts. It’s just being hidden from the American press. We only hear about it when it bubbles to the surface in the countries where Trump is pushing his business deals.

(h/t Talking Points Memo)

Update

Both President Macri and President-Elect Trump have denied that they discussed Trump’s building project during their post-election phone conversation.

But it was confirmed that Ivanka Trump, daughter of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, CEO of Trump Org, and member of his transition team, briefly joined her father’s telephone call with Argentine President Mauricio Macri to “say hello.”

Ivanka Trump’s Presence at Meeting With Japan’s Leader Raises Blind Trust Questions

President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly said that there would be no conflicts of interest during his administration because his vast business empire would be in a “blind trust.” But White House ethics lawyers in both parties have criticized that, noting that having his children run the company means it would be neither blind nor a trust.

The very first meeting that the President-elect held with a world leader, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is prompting further criticism—even alarm. According to photographs taken at Trump Tower in New York City and published this week, the session was attended by Ivanka Trump, who has no government security clearance and is an executive at the Trump Organization.

“This is not the way we behave in the world’s leading constitutional democracy,” says Norman Eisen, special counsel and ethics adviser to President Barack Obama between 2009 and 2011. “It’s like something out of a tin-pot oligarchy.”

Members of the press were also barred from the meeting, adding to building criticism that a President Trump will not honor White House traditions of transparency. Ivanka Trump’s presence apparently only became public because the Japanese government released photos; it is not clear whether she was present for the entire meeting.

Meanwhile the New York Times reports that Jared Kushner, Trump’s trusted son-in-law, consulted a lawyer to find out how he could join Trump’s forthcoming administration without running afoul of federal laws prohibiting nepotism. Kushner was also present at the Abe meeting, according to another photo published by Reuters and the Japanese government. He too lacks government security clearance.

In an interview with Fortune, Eisen says Ivanka Trump and Kushner’s apparent presence at Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with the leader of one of our key allies was “shocking” and unprecedented. “If you’ve got one member of the power couple—Jared Kushner, whispering in the President[-elect]’s ear—and if you’ve got the other, the wife and daughter, who is running businesses, it merges the Trump Organization and the United States into one huge conglomerate managed by the Trumps for their own interests,” he says.

He adds that the fear is that their involvement will turn “our intelligence community into a management consulting firm for the Trump family business. That can’t be right. Ivanka must go, and Kushner can’t stay.”

Eisen and Richard Painter, White House ethics adviser to President George W. Bush between 2005 and 2007, on Tuesday wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post urging Trump to put his “conflict-generating assets in a true blind trust run by an independent trustee.”

Unlike most other federal employees, the President of the United States isn’t bound by the federal conflict of interest law. But Eisen tells Fortune that several lawyers, including those who are part of the Republican party, are “worried about this unprecedented blurring of lines” and President-elect Trump should “expect massive litigation if he proceeds on this collision course.”

(h/t Fortune)

Trump Meets Indian Partners, Despite Vow to Separate From Business

President-elect Donald Trump reportedly met this week at Trump Tower with three Indian business partners, raising fresh questions about a separation between the Trump’s business and future work in the White House.

Trump’s children, who are part of his presidential transition team, also attended the meeting with Atul Chordia, Sagar Chordia and Kalpesh Mehta, according to India’s Economic Times.

The business partners are building a Trump-branded luxury apartment complex south of Mumbai. A picture of Trump standing alongside the men while giving a thumbs up was posted on Twitter earlier this week.

The meeting comes as Trump vowed to hand off his business to his three adult children in a blind trust to avoid potential conflicts of interest while serving in the Oval Office.

A spokeswoman for Trump told The New York Times that the three Indian real estate executives flew from India to congratulate Trump.

“It was not a formal meeting of any kind,” said Breanna Butler, a Trump Organization spokeswoman.

Butler and Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump, declined to comment when asked by the Times if the meeting included any discussion of Trump businesses in India or expanding that business.

But Donald Trump Jr. showed interest in expanding the business further in India, Mehta told the Economic Times.

A former deputy editor at GQ India told the Times that he hosted an event at Sagar Chordia’s hotel during the presidential campaign, saying the Indian businessman expressed “elation” about the opportunities Trump’s candidacy could bring.

Trump caught flak earlier this week after his daughter Ivanka was photographed attending a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump Tower.

State Department officials noted that Ivanka Trump does not have security clearance and is an executive at the Trump Organization hotel chain.

“Donald Trump’s children and son-in-law have been deeply involved in the transition and selecting who will be part of his administration,” said Noah Bookbinder, the executive director for Citizens of Responsibility and Ethics.

“At the same time they are deeply involved in the business. There does not seem to be any sign of a meaningful separation of Trump government operations and his business operations.”

Trump Team Seeks Top-Secret Security Clearances for Trump’s Children

President-elect Donald Trump is potentially seeking top secret security clearances for his children, sources tell CBS News.

The Trump team has asked the White House to explore the possibility of getting his children the top secret security clearances. Logistically, the children would need to be designated by the current White House as national security advisers to their father to receive top secret clearances. However, once Mr. Trump becomes president, he would be able to put in the request himself.

His children would need to fill out the security questionnaire (SF-86) and go through the requisite background checks.

While nepotism rules prevent the president-elect from hiring his kids to work in the White House, they do not need to be government officials to receive top secret security clearances.

The issue raises another layer of questions about the unique role his children are playing and conflicts of interest with their running his network of businesses.

Mr. Trump’s children Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr., as well as son-in-law Jared Kushner, were named to the president-elect’s transition team late last week. Though they were an integral part of his campaign team, Mr. Trump’s children have all stated that they will not hold formal roles in the government.

“No,” Ivanka told CBS News’ Lesley Stahl when asked during a “60 Minutes” interview if she would join the administration. “I’m going to be a daughter. But I’ve– I’ve said throughout the campaign that I am very passionate about certain issues. And that I want to fight for them.”

(h/t CBS News)

Update

USA Today reports that, “it wasn’t something [Trump] was expecting right now.”

Reality

The fact that his children, who will now be running his business, may have security clearance, as well as a direct line of communication with the President of the United States, makes the concept of a blind trust completely useless. The Trump family will be able to alter government policy to better fit their business ventures or be aware of information months before the rest of the public is notified, allowing an unfair advantage to raise their profits among their competitors.

As Glenn Greenwald put it, “This is not a blind trust in any manner, no matter who calls it that. Stop using this term. It’s false.”

Trump Kids to Run Business While on Transition Team

The Trump Organization said on Friday it was vetting new business structures aimed at transferring management control to three of President-elect Donald Trump’s children and a team of executives.

The Trump Organization said in a statement it was planning to transfer control of the portfolio of businesses to Donald Trump Jr, Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump and other executives.

Earlier on Friday, the three Trump children – the oldest of Trump’s five children – were also named as members of Trump’s Presidential Transition Team Executive Committee.

“This is a top priority at the organization and the structure that is ultimately selected will comply with all applicable rules and regulations,” a spokesperson for the Trump Organization said in a statement.

Federal conflict-of-interest law does not apply to the president, but most White House occupants in the last few decades have voluntarily placed their assets in a blind trust to avoid any suggestion of impropriety.

Experts in government ethics said that giving over control to Trump’s children would do virtually nothing to prevent potential conflicts of interest, since there’s usually no daylight between one’s personal interest and the interest of one’s immediate family members.

“It doesn’t meet any of the standards of a blind trust if the kids are running the company,” said Kenneth Gross, a Washington lawyer who specializes in advising political clients on compliance and ethics.

Gross noted that the official transition team roles that Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump now have would appear to complicate matters further.

“If they’re going to be involved in government functions – and they’re starting down that road – and running the business, that’s going to make it very difficult to separate the government and business functions and deal with the conflicts of interest,” Gross said.

All three children already have roles in the Trump Organization, according to the company’s website. Ivanka Trump is executive vice president of development and acquisitions, charged with domestic and global expansion of the company’s real estate interests.

Donald Trump Jr is an executive vice president, and works to expand the company’s real estate, retail, commercial, hotel and golf interests nationally and internationally. Eric Trump is executive vice president of development and acquisitions, responsible for new project acquisition, development and construction globally.

Typically, a blind trust involves turning over assets to an independent financial manager with no prior relationship to the owner. In addition, a blind trust derives its name from the idea that the owner would no longer know what assets are sold or bought. For instance, someone with extensive stock holdings would have no way of knowing which companies’ shares he or she still owned in a blind trust.

Trump’s portfolio includes interests in hundreds of limited liability companies, many overseas, as well as numerous real estate properties both domestic and foreign.

Short of selling the entire Trump empire, experts said, he will find it difficult to create a trust sufficiently “blind” to avoid the possibility of any conflicts.

(h/t Huffington Post)

Reality

This is already showing signs of a conflict of interest with Trump family using their position to help enrich their organization with insider information. This is the type of corruption Trump ran against, but only took a few days after being elected to engage in.

Trump’s Companies Made $1.6 Million Off the Secret Service

Donald Trump is making millions off his own Secret Service detail, and your tax dollars.

The Service is tasked with protecting high-ranking government officials and presidential candidates (among other duties) like Trump. Since this protection is mandatory, it’s common practice for the Service to reimburse campaigns for travel expenses. But it looks like the $1.6 million the Service recently paid the Trump campaign went right back to Trump’s business interests, according to Politico.

The business mogul and his security detail regularly fly on the Trump-owned jet service, TAG Air. The firm also manages Trump’s fleet of private planes. So the money the Service pays back goes right back to his business. Politico reviewed Federal Election Commission filings and found that TAG has already made $6 million off Trump’s campaign.

For comparison, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton charters planes from a private company called Executive Fliteways, one where the Clintons do not have any ownership interest, Politico reported.

It’s not the only way that Trump has been profiting from his White House run.

Last week, he finally admitted President Obama was born in the United States at his hotel in Washington, D.C., earning free media coverage for what CNN’s Jake Tapper later called a “political rick roll.” Trump’s campaign has spent major sums on rent at his hotels and buying copies of his own books, too. He’s even previously stated that he may wind up actually making money from his presidential bid.

(h/t Fortune)

Reality

Donald Trump’s critics have questioned whether the Republican nominee, who points to his business acumen as a case for his candidacy, is trying to do what he has suggested he would in 2000 when he mulled making an independent run: “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”

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