The president’s sons say the Trump business empire no longer makes money from foreign deals.
It’s a false claim whether you take Eric Trump’s version (“we got out of all international business”) or Donald Trump Jr.'s formulation (“we literally stopped”).
When he took office, Donald Trump resigned from his company and placed his holdings in a trust controlled by Eric, Donald Jr. and Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg.
Trump pledged that his businesses would not sign new deals in foreign countries during his presidency and that he would “donate all profits from foreign governments’ patronage of his hotels and similar businesses” to the U.S. Treasury.
Yet the Trumps continue to mix government and business in subtle and not-so-subtle ways — and they keep expanding and cashing in on their foreign investments.
Upon taking office, Trump did not divest from his holdings, and they’re significant, including nearly a dozen hotels and about 20 golf courses worldwide. The plaintiffs in three ongoing lawsuits allege that Trump violates the foreign emoluments clause in the Constitution when his businesses receive payments from foreign governments.
The president files yearly financial disclosure forms with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, showing that he owns more than $130 million in assets in 30 countries and that those assets made more than $100 million in income in 2017 and 2018 combined, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Those totals could be higher because the Office of Government Ethics form asks officials to list their assets and income in ranges, not precise figures. The Trump Organization is privately held and the president has declined to release his tax returns, which are much more detailed than his financial disclosure forms.
Still, it’s enough to dispense with Eric Trump’s claim that “we got out of all international business.” The president’s disclosure forms and the continued existence of Trump properties around the world show it’s false.
We can also dispense with Donald Trump Jr.'s claim that the family “literally stopped” enriching itself from foreign deals. Their assets abroad have generated more than $100 million in income since Trump took office.
But Trump Jr. often throws in a caveat. In the same “Fox and Friends” interview quoted above, he said: “We can’t even do those kinds of deals anymore. We can’t even continue.” In an Oct. 16 interview on Fox News’s “Hannity,” he said: “We were international businesspeople before politics and we gave up doing all new deals going forward.”
That’s what the president pledged. However, Trump’s sons have been busy selling assets to foreign individuals, expanding or adding onto their existing deals and investments in foreign countries, and collecting payments in U.S. properties from foreign governments.
This year, the Trumps sold a 5,400-square-foot Beverly Hills mansion to a company linked to Indonesian billionaire Hary Tanoesoedibjo for $13.5 million. Tanoesoedibjo is the Trumps’ partner on two Indonesian development projects.
The Trump Organization last month received approval to build 550 houses and a second golf course in Balmedie, a village on the northeastern Scottish coast. “If the Trump Organization follows through on these plans, it would turn the company into something it has not been before: a large-scale house builder,” The Washington Post reported. “The company has built condo buildings before and sold off a few dozen houses or home lots next to other golf courses. But the company is now proposing to build a sizable suburban development, complete with the expenses of roads, streets and a school.”
Last month, a local council in southwestern Ireland “approved a Trump Organization plan to build 53 houses and a new ballroom at its seaside golf course.”
The Trumps also have pursued existing business in countries such as India and Uruguay, and some experts say it blurs the line between the U.S. government and the Trump Organization’s finances.
The Indonesian government is helping to build a new highway that would facilitate access to Trump Residences Lido, a golf course, hotel and 280-home residential community that Tanoesoedibjo is developing with Trump. In Scotland, the Aberdeenshire Council voted to drop a requirement that the Trump Organization make other investments in the Balmedie resort before building the 550 planned homes. (“It is a much, much more lucrative deal now,” a council member said afterward.)
The projects can benefit from local zoning or infrastructure improvements, or even when U.S. military crews are billeted there. The House Oversight Committee is investigating why the Pentagon has spent nearly $200,000 at Trump Turnberry golf resort in Scotland since 2017 for overnight stays and other expenses during refueling stops in nearby Glasgow.
The Trumps also can market existing projects under the [president’s self-imposed] guidelines, and actively sell luxury condos to foreign buyers, among other investments.
Last month, Trump Jr. hosted about 100 people in New York who had purchased homes in Trump-branded luxury towers near New Delhi.
Visitors flew over Manhattan in helicopters, dined at Trump’s hotel and listened to a “fireside chat” between Trump Jr. and an Indian business partner.
“It’s not just the issue of projects. It’s how influence works,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group among the plaintiffs suing Trump for alleged constitutional violations. “These towers in India that are going up, they advertised that if you bought before a certain point, you would get to meet Trump Jr. There’s the project in Indonesia that Don Jr. was just at; they called it a pre-launch — a big event attended by members of the government. Their partner, Harry Tano, his daughter was just appointed tourism minister for Indonesia.”
“How does the fact that it benefits the president of the United States’s bottom line affect those decisions by a foreign government?” he added.
A London-based watchdog group, Global Witness, said in a December 2018 report that the Trumps appeared to be pursuing a new business deal in the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana area and that “hallmarks of a new deal include, among others, a potential change in Trump’s role as developer instead of licensor, and the fact that the new and previous projects are not even close to one another — they are five miles apart.” Forbes reported that “the younger Trumps sold a piece of land in January 2018 for $3.2 million” in the island country.
We asked whether this constituted a new foreign deal, which would mean Trump broke his pledge. A Trump Organization spokesperson said: “All of the international projects, including the property in the Dominican Republic which was acquired in 2013, predate the presidency by several years. Some go back more than a decade. Since then, the company has not entered into any new international business deals.”
Representatives of foreign governments often stay at or host events in Trump’s hotel in Washington, near the White House. Lobbyists representing the Saudi government booked 500 nights at Trump International Hotel after his 2016 election. The embassies of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Malaysia and the Philippines all hosted events. (The Trump Organization is weighing a sale of the hotel lease.)
Asked about his country’s independence day celebration at the Trump hotel, the Philippine ambassador was quoted as saying: “Having it in a hotel that happens to have his name is not necessarily the end-all, be-all. It’s a statement that we have a good relationship with this president.”
The Trump Organization has said it donated $191,000 in profit from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury in 2018 and $150,000 in 2017. But the company has not said how it calculates such profit.
Ivanka Trump’s international fashion line continued to operate for a year and a half after she became a White House adviser. In that role, she deals with foreign leaders and international figures. The same day she and President Trump dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping in April 2017, China granted her company three preliminary trademarks.
The Pinocchio Test
Eric Trump claimed, “When my father became commander in chief of this country, we got out of all international business.” That’s a Four Pinocchio whopper.
Donald Trump Jr. at one point claimed the family “literally stopped” enriching itself from foreign deals. That’s another Four Pinocchios.
For now, we’ll leave unrated Trump Jr.’s separate claim that the Trump Organization has abstained from new foreign deals. Some of the company’s recent moves abroad may be seen as new “deals” or just hugely ambitious extensions, but either way it’s significant. A multimillion-dollar land sale in the Dominican Republic came in 2018, followed this year with the announcement of a Scottish project that would transform the Trump Organization into a mass builder of more than 500 houses.
We also note that the Trump Organization — bearing the president’s name and contributing to his bottom line — is unlike any other company hoping for favorable votes in the Aberdeenshire Council or for new roads in Indonesia.
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