Trump Organization confuses everyone by failing to be transparent about foreign government profits

The company has refused to divulge many details about a $151,000 payment it made to the U.S. Treasury in February.

The Trump Organization likely donated only its $151,000 in foreign government profits as a general gift to the U.S. government. (CREDIT: Dimitrios Manis/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The Trump Organization likely donated only its $151,000 in foreign government profits as a general gift to the U.S. government. (CREDIT: Dimitrios Manis/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Trump Organization is causing confusion over a payment it made to the U.S. Treasury in February, declining to answer follow-up questions about the details of the payment and how it was made.

A popular tweet on Thursday night, for example, suggested that the Trump Organization may only have donated a portion of the $151,000 in foreign government funds it promised to contribute to the U.S. Treasury earlier this year.

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This week’s speculation followed weeks of questions over whether the Trump Organization had followed through on its promise, which was supposed to address criticism regarding the president’s conflicts of interest. President Trump maintains a controlling interest in his company, and directly benefits from the profits his various properties rake in each month. In February, the organization announced it had donated all profits stemming from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury.

USA Today investigative reporter and Pulitzer finalist Steve Reilly first flagged a discrepancy on the Treasury Department’s gift contributions page Thursday evening, noting that the latest update to the website showed it received a total of $96,506.55 in donations in the month of February — far below the $151,470 the Trump Organization claims to have contributed that same month.

Overall, the Treasury’s Fiscal Year 2018 gift contributions page lists a total of $443,560.71 over a span of five months. On the surface, it seemed unclear how the $151,470 total presented by the Trump Organization factored into that amount.

The idea that the Trump Organization may have shorted the Treasury was believable, given the tangled web it’s woven regarding the donation. It has been unwilling to divulge details about the payment, and the company has not kept accurate records of those transactions.

The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress request for comment.

However, as one government source pointed out on Friday afternoon, the discrepancy could stem from how the Trump Organization made the payment.

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According to the Bureau of Fiscal Service website, citizens wishing to make a gift to the U.S. government have two options: they can donate to “reduce the public debt” — the type of payment Reilly was looking for — or they can make a “general donation” or gift, for “general use by the federal government.” Those donations can also be used for budgetary needs. It’s possible that the Trump Organization made a general donation in order to fulfill its intended donation.

CREDIT: TreasuryDirect.gov
CREDIT: TreasuryDirect.gov
CREDIT: U.S. Treasury
CREDIT: U.S. Treasury

Shortly before his inauguration in January 2017, Trump handed over control of the Trump Organization’s daily operations to his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump. But he still retained ownership of the company, despite concerns that the decision violated the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, which prohibits elected officials from receiving gifts from foreign officials or states. In response to that criticism, Trump’s tax attorney, Sheri Dillon, promised the president would donate all profits from foreign governments staying at his hotels to the U.S. Treasury.

In February this year, following pressure from watchdog groups like Public Citizen, the Trump Organization’s chief compliance counsel, George A. Sorial, finally announced that the company had followed through on its promise, donating its “foreign government patronage” profits from 2017 to the Treasury Department. “Although not a legal requirement, this voluntary donation fulfills our pledge to donate profits from foreign government patronage at our hotels and similar business during President Trump’s term in office,” Sorial told the Washington Post.

In March, in response to requests for more details about the donation, Sorial claimed the company had made a voluntary donation in the amount of $151,470.

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“This annual donation represents profits from foreign government patronage for the period beginning January 20, 2017 through December 31, 2017 and was calculated in accordance with our policy and the Uniform System of Accounts for the Lodging Industry,” he stated.

As of this month, the Trump Organization has still not provided a detailed list of countries who have visited or stayed in any of its properties.

While $151,000 sounds like a substantial amount of money, it’s far less than what the president’s company has likely generated over the past 12 months. According to a January report by Public Citizen, the Trump Organization has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign governments staying in or patronizing its hotels since the president took office.

A large portion of those profits came from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: In the first half of 2017, the public relations firm Quorvis MSLGroup spent around $270,000 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. on “hotel rooms and catering services” for U.S. military veterans, as part of a lobbying effort against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), the Daily Caller reported in June. JASTA allows victims of extremist attacks to sue foreign governments for injuries, death, or damages and could put Saudi Arabia in the hot seat for the 9/11 attacks, the outlet noted.

The Trump International Hotel has also been used by the Embassy of Kuwait on at least two occasions, both times for its annual independence day celebration. The Trump Organization has not stated how much money it received from the embassy to host those events.


UPDATE, 6:25 p.m. Eastern Time: A Trump Organization spokesperson confirmed to ThinkProgress in an email on Friday evening that the company had indeed donated the $151,000 in foreign government profits from 2017 to the Treasury’s “General Gifts” fund, and disclosed a copy of the check it sent to Treasury officials:

Screenshot of the Trump Organization's check to the Treasury Department
Screenshot of the Trump Organization's check to the Treasury Department
Screenshot of the Trump Organization's letter to the Treasury Department, Treasury Department's receipt of check
Screenshot of the Trump Organization's letter to the Treasury Department, Treasury Department's receipt of check

The spokesperson also reiterated an earlier statement, saying that the contribution “fulfills our pledge to donate profits from foreign government patronage at our hotels and similar business during President Trump’s term in office.”