This week in Donald Trump's conflicts of interest: Trump's getting what he wants at Mar-a-Lago

Trump's conflicts of interest include revelations about the Trump Foundation, Mar-a-Lago, and more

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 31, 2016 11:30AM (EST)

 (Reuters/Lucas Jackson/Shutterstock/Salon)
(Reuters/Lucas Jackson/Shutterstock/Salon)

President-elect Donald Trump's copious conflicts of interest haven't made headlines this week like they have in the past, but that doesn't mean there wasn't anything worth noting. This week has revealed quite a bit of new information not only about how Trump has abused power in the past, but how he and his advisers view such actions in the future.

Trump is trying to close down the Trump Foundation on the grounds that he is addressing his conflicts of interest — even though doing so would impede an ongoing investigation.

Although Team Trump has said they are going to dissolve the Trump Foundation in order to avoid that conflict of interest (even though he has been more reticent about addressing many other conflicts), legally they are not permitted to do so. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office said Monday, "The Trump Foundation is still under investigation by this office and cannot legally dissolve until that investigation is complete. The Foundation’s fundraising activities remain suspended following the AG’s notice of violation earlier this year.”

Naturally, Trump leaves out these inconvenient details when discussing the Trump Foundation.

It is worth noting here that, although Trump did give $2.7 million to his foundation between 2001 and 2008, he is not listed as a donor within the past eight years.

In addition to raising money without obtaining the necessary legal certificates, the Trump Foundation is under investigation because it allegedly used the charity's funds to advance Trump's personal interests, including donating $25,000 to raise money for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. He also used $258,000 to settle lawsuits, $20,000 on a painting of himself, and $12,000 on a football helmet and jersey autographed by quarterback Tim Tebow.

Trump's future press secretary seems to channel his boss's attitude on conflicts of interest: "I just don't care about that story."

During an interview with Hugh Hewitt on Thursday, Trump's incoming press secretary Sean Spicer addressed a conflicts-of-interest question by bluntly remarking "I just don't care about that story." He then gave the nominations of people like ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has an all-too-cozy relationship with Russia, a classic Trumpian spin:

This gets back to this idea that he wants ideas, opinions, people who have been successful or who have ideas to implement that’ll bring success... You talk about a guy like Rex Tillerson, right? I don’t know what the guy makes at ExxonMobil, but it’s one of the top companies in the world. He’s making money hand over fist. And yet, he wants to serve this country and make it better, so he’s willing to step away from all of that in the same way that the president-elect has stepped away from his business, or is stepping away from his business, because they care about the country, and that they recognize that they have been given opportunities through this amazing country that we live in, and they want to give back.

Later on, Spicer returned to addressing questions about Trump's conflicts by praising the fact that a wealthy man like him could have so much money, assuring his pliant host that Trump is only dragging his feet because he wants to make sure he addresses this issue just right.

"As the president-elect noted last night, it’s a fairly simple process," Spicer said. "But I think that because there’s a lot of lawyers involved, and there’s a lot of entities, I mean, he’s, you know, and this isn’t a guy who just sort of made money through hedge funds. He owns some of the most iconic properties in the world. It’s a pretty simple process, but there’s other family members involved, and so, and I think they wanted to make sure that all the I’s are dotted and all the T’s are laid out."

Trump once leveraged a lawsuit against Palm Beach County to build a golf club.

While Trump's actions at Mar-a-Lago happened almost two decades ago, they're being reported by Vanity Fair for its February 2017 edition and are quite illuminating.

Apparently Trump was seriously irritated by the airplanes that would regularly fly over his Mar-a-Lago resort from Palm Beach International Airport, even insisting that the airport director "had a vendetta against him." To address his grievances, he organized a "Noise Pollution Action Fund" with his neighbors and sued Palm Beach County four times. On the last occasion, the suit was for $75 million, and the county eventually agreed to lease him 215 acres of scrubland south of the airport for $438,000 a year in order to drop his suit. Because the county was already on the hook for a $1.1 million commitment to a Washington law firm in order to address Trump's claims, they accepted the offer — and so the Trump International Golf Club was born.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Donald Trump Mar-a-lago Sean Spicer Trump Foundation