“I could become the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it,” Donald Trump predicted in 2000. During the 2016 campaign, he made good on that promise. Now, it looks like the financial benefits could carry over as President-elect Trump takes over the Oval Office in January.
The US Secret Service, tasked with protecting the First Family, is reportedly in talks to rent out two floors of Trump Tower. Mr Trump’s wife, Melania, and son, Barron, are staying in New York until the spring, and Trump has stated that he will travel there regularly during that time. For the Secret Service, protecting the family requires setting up a command center nearby — and Trump Tower has available space.
That space could come with a $3 million annual price tag, reports the New York Post. And those taxpayer dollars will be paid into the coffers of a Trump business. These business-public linkages, which existed throughout the campaign, are unprecedented for a president. However, there are several ways in which Trump could simplify the situation.
This would not be the first time that Trump’s businesses have received money from his position as presidential candidate and now president-elect. A Politico analysis concluded that the Trump campaign paid 7 percent of its total spending, or $8.2 million, to Trump-owned businesses, describing it as “an integrated business and political operation without a precedent in national politics.”
The Secret Service has also paid Trump in the past. The Federal Election Commission “specifically requires security personnel such as the Secret Service to reimburse campaigns for seats” on charter aircraft, Secret Service spokeswoman Nicole Mainor told Politico. The rule allows agents to accompany candidates as they travel around the country, without the campaign being saddled with the cost. But because Trump was flying on a jet owned by one of his companies, TAG Air, Inc., the government was reimbursing Trump personally.
For some, these business connections raise the question of how much a Trump presidency will serve the American people — as Trump promised — or his more than 500 businesses.
History provides few answers. Though numerous presidents have been independently wealthy, none has presented a conflict of interest on this scale, The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Grier reports. Whereas George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s fortunes were tied up in land and slaves, Trump’s businesses cover numerous US and global enterprises and stand to profit from business he directs toward them as Commander-in-Chief.
“With Trump you’ve got a figure who had been an active businessman…in a way no president previously has,” Guian McKee, a historian and associate professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, told the Monitor on Monday.
Trump profited from using Trump Tower in New York as his headquarters during the campaign. Between March and June 2016, as donors began to pay for his offices, the rent for the space quintupled to almost $170,000 per month. That may raise the question of whether the Secret Service, too, will be asked to pay a premium.
Not everyone agrees that renting from the president-elect’s businesses is necessarily bad policy. People who voted for Trump may continue to support him despite his unorthodox attitude toward his businesses as a public servant.
“It’s part of what they liked about him to begin with,” Dr McKee explained.
Ron Kessler, an expert on the US Secret Service, told CNN that the plan could actually save the government money, because renting the building means they don’t have to stay in hotels.
The situation could also be addressed by having Melania and Barron Trump move to the White House, which may be planned for the summer. A law enforcement official told CNN that having the First Family living in Washington would change the calculus on what kind of security presence was needed at Trump Tower, perhaps making it unnecessary to rent the two floors.
Others say Trump should eliminate these issues by liquidating his assets and putting the money in a blind trust, so that he cannot direct government business to his companies. The president-elect has so far been unwilling to do this, arguing that turning over day-to-day management of his companies to his children would suffice.
Conflict of interest or not, a former Secret Service agent says having the Trumps in New York long-term just isn’t realistic. It’s already costing the city millions, and securing Trump Tower would require rerouting flights and fortifying subways.
"This is one of those situations where they really should have an honest conversation with him and just really explain to him that this is not a good idea," Evy Poumpouras told NBC. "To physically re-create the security that exists at the White House in New York City, it's not going to happen."