On the campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump promised to keep his business interests isolated from his presidency.
Donald Trump has bragged for years that he's taken no salary during his time in office — but it turns out he's enriched himself with taxpayer money to the tune of at least $2.5 million.
It's true that Trump writes checks to several government agencies each quarter that total the amount of his $400,000 annual salary.
But a new Washington Post report shows that all of Trump's rubbing elbows with the rich and famous at his Mar-a-Lago Club and other estates — whether when taking vacations, entertaining family and friends, or holding business summits — has not been cheap.
For instance, when it comes to per diem rates for housing aides traveling on official business in Florida, the Post noted, federal policies have typically capped the amount at $182 a night. At Mar-a-Lago, Trump has charged the government anywhere from $500 to $2,600 a night per person.
Trump staffers made the White House foot the bill when they racked up a bar tab of more than $1,000.
When former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the United States in 2018, Trump hosted him at Mar-a-Lago, charging the federal government (and ultimately the American taxpayer) more than $35,000 for rooms, food, floral arrangements, and alcohol over a two-day period.
White House spokesperson Judd Deere declined to give the Post an official total of expenses, but offered up a statement instead.
"Any suggestion that the President has used his own official travel or the federal government as a way to profit off of taxpayers is an absolute disgrace and lie," the statement read.
All told, government funds have paid for at least $2.5 million of Trump's personal expenses — with an additional $5.6 million going to his companies from his campaign and fundraising arm.
Moreover, Trump has used campaign funds to pay his legal bills to a far greater extent than any president before him.
And since his inauguration in January 2017, Trump has saddled taxpayers with the tab for other expenditures.
These include his campaign rally expenses, family business trips, Donald Trump Jr.'s hunting trips, more White House renovations than any other past president, an outsized 2020 Fourth of July bash, and round-the-clock security presence for Melania Trump and Barron Trump when they remained in New York after the inauguration.
In February, Eric Trump argued: "Legally, by law, you have to charge the federal government something, otherwise you get into all sorts of gift laws."
But Don Fox, former acting director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, told the Post that there was no such law.
"There's nothing that would prohibit any government employee, including the president, from offering the government something for free," he said.
Back on the campaign trail in 2016, Trump promised to keep his business interests isolated from his presidency and himself apart from the business.
"If I win I may never see my property — I may never see these places again," Trump infamously promised. "But because I'm going to be working for you, I'm not going to have time to go golfing, believe me. Believe me. Believe me, folks."
But by December 2016, Trump was telling the press of his conflicts of interest: "It's not a big deal — you people are making it a big deal."
He said voters weren't bothered by his business endeavors: "They all knew I had big business all over the place."
But shortly after Trump's inauguration, constitutional law scholar Lawrence Tribe told Boston.com that Trump's business ventures would in fact present a huge conflict with the emoluments clause of the Constitution.
The clause — which Trump once famously called "phony" — prohibits presidents from taking payments or profiting from foreign governments.
"He will violate it from the moment after he takes the oath," Tribe said, "every time a foreign government, agent, or entity controlled by such government pays one of Trump's companies to use its facilities."
Alan Zibel, research director of Public Citizen's Corporate Presidency Project, told the American Independent Foundation that since he took office, Trump has "treated the presidency as a self-enrichment scheme."
"Slowly but surely, we're beginning to learn the true size of the bill to taxpayers," he said.
Zibel added that payments to Trump businesses "are only part of this sleazy story."
"Since the 2016 election, Trump businesses have become popular gathering spots for Republican candidates, business groups, administration officials, and Trump friends and family to mingle and hold political fundraisers and parties, as well as farewell parties for departing White House staffers," he said.
Zibel noted that the White House occupant's conflicts of interests and self-enrichment on the taxpayer's dime are without precedent.
"Trump's collection of businesses and properties around the world presents a unique ethical minefield, one exacerbated by Trump's refusal to sell his properties before taking office," he said.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.