ICYMI: Washington Post: From Mueller to Stormy to ‘emoluments,’ Trump’s business is under siege

By Jonathan O'Connell and David A. Fahrenthold


March 30, 2018


The carefully maintained secrecy around President Trump’s finances is under unprecedented assault a year into his presidency, with three different legal teams with different agendas trying to pry open the Trump Organization’s books.


On one side is special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who has subpoenaed Trump Organization documents as part of his wide-ranging investigation into the 2016 campaign. On another is Stormy Daniels, the adult-film actress seeking internal correspondence as part of her effort to be freed from a nondisclosure agreement centering on an alleged affair with Trump.


And in the most direct assault, the District and Maryland have sued Trump, alleging that he is improperly accepting gifts, or “emoluments,” from foreign or state governments through his businesses, including his hotels. A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the case can proceed, opening the way for the plaintiffs to seek at least a portion of Trump’s tax returns, which the president has refused to release.


“I think under pretty much any reading of the judge’s order, we can get discovery of his personal financial information in that it relates to payments from foreign and domestic governments,” Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) said. He and D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) also plan to seek other documents related to the president’s D.C. hotel.


The inquiries are exposing the risks Trump took on when he made the decision to maintain ownership of the company that bears his name while serving in the White House — a departure from 40 years of presidential tradition and the advice of ethics officials. Previous presidents have chosen to fully divest their assets. When Trump took office, he instead put his stake in his company into a trust managed by his sons, accessible to him at any time.


Now, what initially seemed like a plum arrangement for Trump — enjoying the fruits of his business while running the country — may come back to harm the Trump Organization if it is forced to reveal the kind of financial information and private correspondence that real estate firms closely guard.


During the campaign, Trump played on his reputation as a successful businessman, boasting of his real estate projects while refusing to disclose financial information that might have corroborated that image. He deflected calls to release his tax returns, a disclosure every president has made since the 1970s.


Since taking over the business, his grown sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, have at times remarked that one of the benefits of running a private company is the ability to avoid the scrutiny and pressure faced by publicly held firms.


“We’re not a public company,” Eric Trump told The Washington Post shortly after taking over, a fact he has reiterated since. “If we want to add 20 properties to our portfolio in one year we can do that; if we want to add zero to the portfolio in a given year, we can do that.”


Company officials argue it would have been impractical to untangle and sell all of Trump’s real estate holdings, and that doing so might have created additional conflicts of interest.


No private real estate developer wants its plans, financial information and partnerships thrust into open view, as they amount to proprietary information. But that is exactly what could be at stake for Trump.