The first six months of the Trump presidency have been a whirlwind of Russia-related news, with revelations about the Kremlin’s attempt to sway the election and the Trump campaign’s possible role in the effort surfacing nearly every day. But imagine for a moment a world in which the Russia scandal didn’t exist. Pretend that Trump didn’t fire FBI Director James Comey, or that Don Jr. never met with a Russian lawyer and a former Soviet spy promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. Forget that Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort had to register retroactively as foreign agents, or even that Trump said he wouldn’t have hired Jeff Sessions if he’d known the attorney general would recuse himself from the Russia probe.
What you’re left with is still a remarkable amount of other Trump administration scandals—from the State Department’s Trump hotel stay to Jared Kushner’s disclosure problems—that would have been major news any other year, with any other president in the White House. Here are a few to remember.
Foreign governments are paying Trump
The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution says that the president cannot “without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” This means that many of Trump’s continued business dealings—he has refused to divest from his real estate company—could very well be illegal: For one, Trump has hotels all over the world—from Saudi Arabia to the Philippines—and receives foreign money from his overseas holdings constantly.
There’s also the issue of the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., which has become a popular destination for foreign diplomats. A week after the November election, about 100 foreign officials were invited to an event at the property, during which they toured the building and sipped champagne. While Trump promised before taking office that he’d donate all profits earned from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury, he doesn’t appear to have kept that pledge. So far, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have all held events at the hotel, but there’s also the trickier matter of how to account for individuals linked to foreign governments. A Trump Organization pamphlet published in May said that “putting forth a policy that asks all guests to identify themselves would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.”
In January, the non-profit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) welcomed Trump to the White House by suing him, on the grounds that he was already in violation of the Emoluments Clause. The Justice Department responded with a 70-page legal brief defending the president’s conduct and calling for the suit’s dismissal.
The Defamation lawsuit
During the 2016 presidential campaign, 15 women claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Trump, going on the record to accuse him of groping them—in planes, offices, hotels, even golf and tennis tournaments. The then-presidential nominee vehemently denied any accounts of misconduct, and suggested the women weren’t attractive enough to merit his attention. But in January, Summer Zeryos, a former “Apprentice” contestant who had accused Trump of kissing her, grabbing her breast and thrusting his groin towards her in 2007, but whose accusation Trump had dismissed as “totally made up nonsense,” sued Trump for defamation. Zervos’ suit claims that Trump’s malicious response to her and others’ statements—he repeatedly called her and other women who came forward “liars”—resulted in “threats of violence, economic harm, and reputational damage.” In March, Trump claimed that as president, he should have immunity from Zeryos’ suit. It will only serve to “distract a president from his public duties to the detriment of not only the president and his office but also the Nation,” wrote his lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, in a filing. In July, Kawowitz filed a motion for dismissal. It hasn’t yet been granted.
The White House promotes Melania’s jewelry line
The first lady’s bio on the White House website, as first published in January, noted her modeling accolades and charitable causes, but also included what many saw as a blatant endorsement of her products. “Melania is also a successful entrepreneur,” the bio read. “In April 2010, Melania Trump launched her own jewelry collection, ‘Melania™ Timepieces & Jewelry,’ on QVC.” The episode was added to the growing evidence of blurred lines between business and public service in the Trump administration. Facing backlash, the White House quickly removed the QVC plug from the website.
Kellyanne Conway endorses Ivanka’s clothing line
When Nordstrom announced it would stop selling Trump’s daughter Ivanka’s clothing line in February, Trump took to Twitter to defend her. Later that week, not even three weeks after the Melania QVC debacle, presidential aide Kellyanne Conway delivered a ringing endorsement of the brand herself from the White House briefing room, urging Americans, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff.” The rules are clear on this: Executive branch employees can’t use public office for private gain, to endorse any product or for the private gain of friends. The Office of Government Ethics wrote that “there is strong reason to believe” the action had violated the Standards of Conduct, and Conway was supposedly reprimanded for the mistake by Trump himself—but no disciplinary action was taken.
Wilbur Ross keeps investments that he affects as commerce secretary
In February, the Wall Street Journal wrote that Trump’s then-nominee for head of the Commerce Department, Wilbur Ross, planned on keeping $8.7-$41.5 million worth of his investments, primarily in companies that invest in shipping and real-estate financing. While Ross said he would sell at least 80 other funds and assets, the holdings he refused to give up include a private company registered in the Cayman Islands, an oil-tanker company and a co-investment with the Chinese government. Ethics watchdogs and democratic lawmakers highlighted potential conflicts of interest, given the Commerce chief’s regulatory power and involvement in foreign trade negotiations, but despite these concerns, Ross was confirmed for the position later that month. In his new role, Ross sits on the Committee on Foreign Investment, which deals extensively with China; and he has broad authority under the Oil Pollution Act “with regards to oil-spill response and environmental restoration,” which could have implications for his investments in the medium-range oil tanker operating and owning company, Diamond S. Shipping. Ross has pledged not to take any action that would benefit one of his investments.
Mar-a-Lago jacks up its rates
Trump might travel to Mar-a-Lago—the historic Florida estate his aides have branded the “Southern White House”—to get away from the stresses of 1600 Penn, but guests travel to Trump’s Palm Beach resort to get closer to power. And they’re willing to pay Trump handsomely for the privilege: After the inauguration, the club doubled its initiation fee to $200,000. It’s not only foreign dignitaries that stay at the resort hoping to brush shoulders with the president and his staff—wealthy club-goers also include New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Sylvester Stallone.
Ethics watchdogs aren’t comfortable with the arrangement—not to mention how expensive it is to transport a president, his aides and security detail down to Palm Beach (or, more recently, his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey) weekend after weekend—but security officials are also wary: Trump has been known to conduct sensitive business with foreign dignitaries on the terrace, in open view of Mar-a-Lago guests, who can enter the property without a background check. And then there’s that time a guest happily posted a photo online of the soldier who carries the nuclear football.
In March, Democrats proposed legislation titled “Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness Act,” (fondly known as the “Mar-a-Lago Act,” which would force Trump to release the resort’s guest records. In July, CREW won its own ethics lawsuit demanding that the Department of Homeland Security release Mar-a-Lago’s records by this fall.
Trump’s campaign pays his businesses
In February, Federal Election Commission reports revealed that Trump’s campaign paid $12.8 million to his own companies over the course of the 2016 election. Those millions were funneled to Trump’s TAG Air, for campaign trips; Trump Tower, for rent and utilities; Trump Restaurants; Trump Ice, for beverages and office supplies; Trump’s Florida club, Mar-A-Lago, his golf clubs; and his son’s Charlottesville vineyard, for rent, catering and lodging.
And as one election ended, soliciting campaign donations for the next one quietly began. A Wired analysis this July found that Trump had already spent $600,000 of his 2020 re-election campaign funds on rent at Trump Tower, legal consulting for The Trump Corporation, golf at Trump’s golf course, Trump’s hotels and Trump’s water bottles.
The Kushners tout Jared’s White House connections to do business in China
In May, Jared Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer pitched Chinese investors in Beijing on a Kushner development project in Jersey City, telling them that if they put at least $500,000 into the project they would be rewarded with EB-5 investor visas (also known as “golden visas”) to immigrate to the United States. Kushner, whose role in the White House includes advising on China policy, stopped running his family’s company in January; but Meyer mentioned her brother by name at the Beijing event, reminding guests he was now serving in the White House and adding that the project “means a lot to me and my entire family.” Critics immediately sounded the alarm: It appeared the Kushners weren’t averse to using their high-ranking White House connections to buoy their business. They pivoted quickly, canceling future visits to China in the wake of intense scrutiny and issuing an apology.
But in July, CNN discovered that Kushner’s name has again been used to lure Chinese investors for the same New Jersey development, this time in online promotions written by businesses working with Kushner Companies. He’s referred to as “the celebrity of the family,” and in a post that has since been removed, as the guy who “got Trump elected.” CNN also found a post by the Chinese company Qiaowai, also recently deleted, again mentioned Kushner and his connection to the White House, adding, “Given this, in the Trump era, the EB-5 program is likely to receive support and be expanded.”
When asked by CNN about the webpages, a Kushner Companies spokesperson said they were unaware of them and would be “sending a cease and desist letter” to the companies who used Kushner’s name without his approval.
Kushner fails to disclose key assets
In May, a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that Kushner neglected to disclose large stakes in the real estate investment platform Cadre, valued at $800 million, when he filed his government financial disclosure form. Kushner’s ties to Cadre mean he’s also entangled in business with Goldman Sachs and billionaires George Soros and Peter Thiel, fellow investors in the company. Also absent from his form? Nearly $1 billion in loans. In July, CREW filed a lawsuit against Kushner, asserting, “It is impossible to ensure that senior government officials are behaving ethically if they fail to disclose key assets.”
In the wake of the July revelation that Kushner had joined his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr., in a mysterious meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer and former Soviet spy, Kushner released a revised form. It revealed, among other things, that he and his wife Ivanka Trump made at least $19 million in outside business; that they shared a $5-25 million art collection; that Kushner had left out more than 70 assets worth more than $10 million from his first form; and that, although he has recused himself from “particular matters” in sectors that might affect Cadre, his previously undisclosed stake in the company is valued at between $5-$25 million.
Financial disclosure forms are commonly revised, but former Office of Government Ethics director Don Fox told the Wall Street Journal that “the number of omissions on Mr. Kushner’s initial form was unusually high.” Ethics experts worry that failure to disclose potential conflicts of interest mean Kushner could make policy decisions motivated by business strategy without public accountability.
Ivanka and Jared are still making a lot of money from their businesses
Ivanka’s first financial disclosure went public in July, revealing that even though she’s stepped away from leadership roles within the family business and her fashion brand, the first daughter has received at least $12.6 million in income from her business ventures since early 2016. In fact, Jared and Ivanka’s most recent disclosures show the couple continues to cash in from a wide-ranging business empire worth as much as $761 million as they carry out their government service—a big problem, according to ethics experts warning about the potential for conflicts of interest.
Trump’s products aren’t made in America
In July, the president traveled around the country for Made in America week. He rode fire trucks, waved flags, and most of all heralded the importance of buying and manufacturing in America. But soon it became clear that he doesn’t practice what he preaches—his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line is not made in America at all, and his restaurants and hotels are actively hiring more foreign workers. Similar hypocrisies came to light when, during the election, Trump placed emphasis on buying American while it was revealed that dozens of other goods he produced were manufactured overseas. In her defense, Ivanka’s brand president, Abigail Klem, told the Washington Post that manufacturing goods in the U.S. “at a large scale is currently not possible”; and in 2015, Trump defended his China-manufactured ties by arguing that “[the Chinese] have manipulated their currency to such a point that it’s impossible for our companies to compete.”
The government writes Trump a $15,000 check
In July, a FOIA request by the Washington Post revealed that the State Department in February shelled out $15,000 to stay in Trump’s new Vancouver hotel when members of the Trump family traveled there for the hotel’s grand opening. The Secret Service, which handles security for domestic travel, has already spent millions on stays at Trump Towers in New York and at Trump’s Florida Mar-a-Lago property. But this was the first real evidence of the State Department’s spending taxpayer money at Trump-branded properties. The State Department didn’t say explicitly why the agency accompanied the Trumps, telling the Post, “Embassy and consulate personnel work with the Secret Service to provide assistance on security matters as necessary for conditions in the particular host country.”
The administration sidelines climate scientists
When Mark Zuckerberg flew to Glacier National Park in July, the Facebook CEO was to be shown around by two of the park’s climate experts, Daniel Fagre and Jeff Mow—but at the last minute, top officials at Trump’s Department of the Interior made sure the tech billionaire wouldn’t be meeting either of them. The administration defended the cancellation as a move to save money, saying it would be a waste of government resources to send Zuckerberg into the park with such a large group; but Fagre, a research ecologist, and Mow, who focuses on Glacier’s retreating ice sheets, were puzzled. The tour was kept quiet on social media, too, after the Trump administration forbade National Park staff from posting about it online.
To many, this was interpreted as another of the Trump administration’s moves to undermine the long-held scientific consensus that that man-made climate change is happening. Since Trump took office, the Interior Department and EPA made revisions to their Climate Change websites, deleting much of the substantive content on environmental risks. In June, dozens of top Interior officials, including those focused on climate other environmental issues, were involuntarily reassigned to unrelated departments; and in July, Trump nominated climate-change skeptic Sam Clovis, a campaign aide with no experience in science, to be the head of science at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.