This Week in Conflicts: President Trump named in emolument lawsuit, inaugural spending, and Kushner deals


“President Donald Trump being sworn in on January 20, 2017, at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Melania Trump wears a sky-blue cashmere Ralph Lauren ensemble. He holds his left hand on two versions of the Bible, one childhood Bible given to him by his mother, along with Abraham Lincoln’s Bible.” (Image Credit: White House photographer)

This week, questions remain about how $107 million raised by President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee was spent, the President has been personally named in an emolument lawsuit, and a sale by the Kushner Companies is raising continued conflict of interest concerns.

President Named in Emolumental Lawsuit

The White House in Washington, D.C. (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons user AgnosticPreachersKid)

WAMU, Washington D.C.’s NPR-affiliate, reported that the emolument lawsuit filed by the District of Columbia and Maryland now names President Donald J. Trump personally as a businessman. President Trump being personally named means a summons has been sent to the White House.

The lawsuit, filed by the D.C. and Maryland attorneys general, claims the President is violating the foreign emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution. The clause bans public officials from receiving gifts and payments from foreign governments without the approval of Congress.

The attorneys general argue that not divesting from his business, President Trump and the Trump Organization, are profiting from payments from foreign governments. The lawsuit specifically calls out payments and business associated with the Trump International Hotel in D.C. The plaintiffs also allege Maryland and D.C. companies are losing out on potential business because people are choosing Trump-owned properties, instead of local businesses.

According to WAMU, the addition of naming Trump personally in the lawsuit “follows the suggestion of the federal judge in the case.”

Inaugural Spending Questioned

2017 Presidential Inauguration (Image Credit: National Parks Service)

The teams at WNYC Studios and Propublica are asking how $107 million raised for President Trump’s inaugural festivities were spent.

In the latest episode of Trump, Inc. (listen here), reporters discuss into inaugural committee spending, digging throuhg recent tax filing which shows $104 million of the $107 million raised was spent. The filings do not show – nor are they required to show – which subcontractors received money, but they do show $26 million went to an event planning firm started in December by one of Melania Trump’s friends.

The inaugural planners interviewed for the podcast were “baffled” by the committee’s fundraising and spending operation. The podcast also reveals that “two members of the inaugural committee have been convicted of financial crimes, and a third — the committee’s treasurer — was reportedly an unindicted co-conspirator in an accounting fraud.”

In addition to inaugural spending details being hard to trace, WNYC and Propublica also found some donors to the inaugural fund were hard to track down: “Two ‘dark money’ groups, which do not disclose their donors, gave $1 million each. Trump’s inaugural committee appears to have been the first to accept significant donations from dark money groups.”

[Screenshot of Facebook page of Eagle Sign & Design, the company who posted an image of the Presidential seals they created for use at Trump’s golf courses. (Image Credit: Katherine Sullivan, ProPublica/WNYC/Facebook)]

Earlier this March, WNYC and Propublica reported that the Trump Organization ordered golf course tee markers featuring the seal of the President of the United States. Under federal law, the seal is only allowed to be used for official government business, not commercial use. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has now filed a complaint about the usage.

Kushner Companies & Japan

Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to President Donald J. Trump, sits in on a meeting with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad, Iraq, April 3, 2017. (Image Credit: DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)


A business deal made by the Kushner Companies, President Trump’s son-in-law’s family company, is raising a renewed cloud of conflict of interest concerns.

The latest headlines about White House senior advisor Jared Kushner’s family company focus on a sale of a portion of a Brooklyn building to a company in which the largest shareholder is the Japanese government.

Bloomberg reported that ,two months after Kushner became a senior adviser at the White House, a New Jersey-based investment firm, Normandy Real Estate Partners, closed a $103-million deal with Kushner Companies for a 191,688 square foot building in the Dumbo neighborhood of New York City.

According to Bloomberg, “documents filed in Tokyo show that it (Normandy Real Estate Partners) was operating on behalf of a subsidiary of Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. By law, the Japanese government owns at least a third of NTT, in effect a controlling share.”

This makes the first known deal with a government-associated firm since Kushner entered the White House, according to Bloomberg. “There’s no evidence the NTT company made the investment with a political intent,” reports Caleb Melby. “It denies that, as do all the others involved.”

But, as the reporter points out, this does raise conflict of interest concerns.

More FOIA Requests for President Trump and Kushner

Screenshot of Need to Impeach website. (Image Credit: Need to Impeach)

Sunshine Week may be over, but a campaign focused on impeaching President Trump said it will file more than 200 public records requests related to the President and Kushner’s business dealings.

The organization behind the requests, Need to Impeach, said it planned to file the requests on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Day, which was on March 16, President James Madison’s birthday.

Citing a report by CNN that revealed Department of Defense employees charged the government nearly $140,000 at Trump brand properties during the first eight months President Trump was in office, Need to Impeach said they want to see how much money “every single federal agency” has spent on Trump-owned properties.

According to Newsweek, other information the group said they will request includes:

  • Any emails with federal business conducted through private accounts.
  • Why the Securities and Exchange Commission stopped an investigation into Apollo Global Management a month after Kushner’s family-run real estate company secured a $180 million loan from the financial company.

More conflicts of interest in the news

About this Project

Sunlight’s “Tracking Trump’s Conflicts of Interest” presents a comprehensive, free, searchable database detailing all of President Donald J.Trump’s known business dealings and personal interests that may conflict with his public duties as president of the United States. Read our reporting to stay current on related news, learn more about conflicts of interest at every level of government and search our database. If you’re familiar with any of the conflicts we’re tracking you can email us or contact us here to contribute to the project.

Lynn Walsh is an Emmy award-winning freelance journalist who has worked in investigative, data and TV journalism at the national level as well as locally in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida. She produces content focused on government accountability, public access to information and freedom of expression issues. She’s also helping to rebuild trust between newsrooms and the public through the Trusting News project. Connect with her via email here.