On Jan. 11, then President-elect Donald Trump held a press conference to announce he was leaving, but not selling, his business empire. Instead, he’d be transferring his business interests to a trust overseen by Donald Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg, Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organization.
While former and current ethics officials urged President Trump to place his holdings in a blind trust, completely removing him from his business interests until he was a private citizen again, he did not take that step. As president, he’d maintain an ownership stake in his businesses.
Then, on or before Feb. 10, someone changed the language of the trust itself.
Letters published by ProPublica reveal that language was added to the trust agreement that allow the trustees — Donald Jr. and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s Chief Financial Officer — to “distribute” funds to President Donald Trump “at his request.”
In full, the new clause says: “The trustees shall distribute net income or principal to Donald J. Trump at his request, as the Trustees deem necessary for his maintenance, support or uninsured medical expenses, or as the Trustees deem otherwise appropriate.”
This language allows President Trump to transfer and take profits from his business interests at any time.
And since the Trump Organization and the trust are privately held, if Trump were to transfer funds from the trust, he would not have to report it. Any income would be reported to the IRS — but Trump, famously, will not release his tax returns.
The Trump Organization made a statement to ProPublica in response to their publication of the letters. The statement does not deny anything. It only adds, “President Trump believed it was important to create multiple layers of approval for major actions and key business decision [sic].”
In today’s daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed the language had not actually changed (despite evidence presented here) and then said “the whole point” of a trust is to exist so that “somebody can withdraw money.” “That’s frankly part of the point of setting it up,” he told reporters.