A better year for Trump’s family business (last year, that is)
By Ben Protess, Steve Eder and Michael H. Keller
Before the coronavirus ripped through the country, upending President Donald Trump’s family business and the broader hospitality industry, the company last year showed modest gains, according to Trump’s annual financial disclosure report released late Friday.
The report, which offers the only official public detailing of the president’s personal finances, had been delayed for months after Trump received two extensions.
The delay came in part based on questions the Office of Government Ethics had raised about, among other issues, the value of pro bono legal work provided to the president by Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, according to people with knowledge of the delay.
As the U.S. economy was humming in 2019, the Trump Organization reported revenues of at least $446.3 million, up more than 2% from $434.9 million, in 2018. In 2017, he reported at least $452.6 million in revenues.
All told, the report shows that last year’s revenues, while an improvement over 2018, still reflect the toll Trump’s divisive presidency has taken on his brand.
The president reported assets worth at least $1.35 billion, down narrowly from 2018 and 2017.
In a statement, Eric Trump, the president’s son and a senior executive at the company, called it a “fantastic year for our country and one of the best years in the history of The Trump Organization.”
While providing no specific historic comparisons for the privately held company, he described the revenue as “strong” and noted that the company had “very low levels of debt.”
Overall, the company’s golf business performed well — a number of properties registered double-digit revenue gains — and Trump emphasized that “our core businesses were up considerably year-over-year.”
The report also includes the unusual disclosure by the president that the Office of Government Ethics had pressed him to address the free legal services provided by Giuliani over the last two years. Some legal experts had argued the president had potentially broken the rules by not disclosing the gift last year.
“Although we did not believe and do not believe that any pro bono publico counsel is reportable as a ‘gift,’ at the request of OGE, we note that as has been widely reported in the media, Rudy Giuliani provided such pro bono publico counsel in 2018 and 2019,” the report says, referring to pro bono legal services and the Office of Government Ethics.
Normally, if such a gift of free legal services has been provided, the federal government official is required to disclose the value of the gift. Trump declined to do so, with the disclosure report saying “Mr. Giuliani is not able to estimate the value” of the services, so “therefore, the value is unascertainable.”
The disclosure, required every year under federal ethics rules, was originally due May 15. The White House blamed the delay on the coronavirus pandemic, but it also followed conversations between ethics officials and representatives for Trump about a draft of the filing, including the discussions over Giuliani’s free legal work, according to the people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly.
The 78-page disclosure was the sixth by Trump since he announced his candidacy for president in 2015.
Unlike the past six presidents, Trump has refused to release his tax returns, leaving additional gaps in the public record of his finances, and even went to court to block their release. The Supreme Court ruled in early July that congressional Democrats could not, at least for now, see some of the president’s financial documents, likely shielding the records from public view before the election.
For much of Trump’s presidency, his family business was stuck in neutral. The family name was stripped from several properties. The pipeline of potential new deals had dried up. And Trump’s polarizing politics had generated a red-blue divide among many properties, leaving his hotel in Chicago struggling, for instance, while his golf club in North Carolina thrived.
Results were mixed once again last year, according to the disclosure statement.
Revenues grew about 2% at both the North Carolina club and Trump National Doral Miami, the company’s biggest money generator. The resort, which includes a hotel and four golf courses, had been particularly stung by the divide over the president’s politics, as revenues sagged after his election. Another golf club, at Bedminster, New Jersey — which Trump often visits during the summer — saw revenues rise by 12.6%, while his club in Jupiter, Florida, was up 11.9%.
But at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida, where Trump often spends time during the winter months, revenues were $21.4 million, down 5.5% from 2018, continuing a downward trend from 2017.
At the Trump International Hotel in Washington, just blocks from the White House, revenues were $40.5 million, falling just shy of 1% from 2018.
At the company’s only remaining New York hotel, on Central Park West, revenue on the commercial space was between $1 million and $5 million, the same range as reported for 2018. Last year, the company agreed to downsize the “Trump” signs on the premises after some owners of the adjoining condominium tower complained that the branding was hurting their property values.
At best, the disclosure provides a general view of Trump’s business interests. Such statements offer inexact accounting, as dollar amounts are often reported in ranges, and they do not reflect profits or losses, making it difficult to assess the bottom line.
The report, for example, does not fully reflect the revenues from a pair of office towers in New York and California, where Trump is a partial owner. Both properties have been a substantial source of revenue in recent years, making up for weaknesses in other business lines.
The disclosure shows the Trump Organization’s debt remained unchanged from the previous year.