Private Profit, Public Expense

The Trumps have turned the White House into a profit center

Government service traditionally attracts energetic, idealistic, bright young people who for at least a few years sacrifice the chance to earn fat paychecks in law, medicine, or business in favor of the satisfaction that comes from serving their fellow citizens.

But financial reports released this week demonstrate that two young and  high profile members of the Trump administration have found a way to enhance their already substantial fortunes while holding down full-time, non-paying government jobs.

The disclosures indicate that Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, and her husband Jared Kushner hauled in at least $82 million from a variety of businesses last year while working without salaries at the White House as senior advisers to the president.

The couple’s outside income highlights the Trump team’s willingness to cash-in on the president’s position rather than follow the example set by his modern-era predecessors and divest themselves of private holdings while in public office.

Ivanka Trump reported at least $12 million in income, including $3.9 million from her stake in Washington’s Trump International Hotel, $2 million in severance from the Trump Organization, and $5 million from the  clothing line that bears her name, according to The Washington Post. 

Kushner’s income came mostly from his family’s extensive real estate holdings.

The Trump hotel’s bottom line has gotten a big boost from Trump’s election, becoming a magnet for visiting diplomats, foreign and domestic business people, and Republican activists hoping to do business with the federal government or curry favor with the president. The president’s frequent visits to his golf courses and resort properties also are generating millions for the Trump Organization in the form of payments to cover cost of rooms and meals for his staff, security detail, journalists, and others hoping to contact him in an informal setting.

Lawsuits pending in Maryland and the District of Columbia, including one filed by more than 200 members of Congress, charge that the family’s profiteering from the presidency violates the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses of the Constitution. The foreign emoluments clause bars the president and other federal officials from accepting gifts and other payments from foreign governments without congressional approval; the domestic clause bars the president from accepting any government payment other than his salary.

The full meaning of the emoluments ban has never been adjudicated however, so the question is almost certain to be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawyers for the president and members of his family argue that by giving up day-to-day control of their businesses, while retaining ownership and the ability to derive income, they are meeting the constitutional requirement. Trump has promised to donate profits from payments by foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury; his business donated $151,470 earlier this year but did not disclose how it calculated that total.