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New Loopholes Discovered In Trust Separating Trump From His Businesses


We're learning more today about the arrangement president Donald Trump has set up with his businesses. He says he uses a trust, but it's not a blind trust. NPR's Peter Overby reports on a change the president has made to the trust that allows him to continue being paid.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: In the ongoing saga of President Trump's finances, today the Park Service won the raffle. Sean Spicer started the afternoon press briefing by giving the Park Service a humongous check representing President Trump's first quarter salary.


SEAN SPICER: It is my pleasure on behalf of the president of the United States present a check for $78,333 to the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and superintendent of the Harpers Ferry park sites, Superintendent Brandyburg.

OVERBY: The $78,000 isn't much compared to the wealth of Trump's business empire. Those business interests are now held by a revocable trust. The White House says that's enough to avert possible conflicts of interest, something that ethics experts generally say it doesn't do. Back in January, Trump's lawyer, Sheri Dillon, walked reporters through the trusts set up.


SHERI DILLON: President-elect Trump wants there to be no doubt in the minds of the American public that he is completely isolating himself from his business interests.

OVERBY: Today at the White House, Spicer said he didn't know of any changes in the trust since then.


SPICER: I'm not aware that there was any change. Just because a left wing blog makes the point of something changing doesn't mean it actually happened.

OVERBY: It wasn't a left wing blog, it was the journalism nonprofit ProPublica. And there was a change - a significant one. The document lets Trump draw out profits in principle from his businesses. It says the trustees shall distribute funds to Trump at his request. It also lets the trustees send him money for, quoting here, "his maintenance, support or uninsured medical expenses." That is, he can take money from his businesses whenever he wants. Spicer dismissed the question of whether Trump has already taken money from the trust.


SPICER: The idea that the president is withdrawing money at some point is exactly the purpose of what the trust - why a trust is set up regardless of an individual.

OVERBY: Actually, the purpose of presidential trusts has been to avoid conflicts of interest. The new document also sheds light on how the trust works. There are two trustees who run it - Donald Trump Jr. and an executive of The Trump Organization. Now, they're not allowed to give financial reports to the president. But Trump's second son, Eric, can do that as chair of the trust advisory board. And Eric Trump told Forbes Magazine last month that he plans to do exactly that every quarter or so.

Before Trump, recent presidents sold their assets or put them into a blind trust when they took office. Kathleen Clark is a professor of law and ethics at Washington University in St. Louis.

KATHLEEN CLARK: This is a ploy, OK? It's a public relations ploy to give people the impression that Trump has done something meaningful about the massive conflicts of interest he faces.

OVERBY: Those conflicts center mainly around his hotels and brands overseas and U.S. environmental laws that affect his golf courses. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.