Earlier this morning, the Office of Government Ethics (@officegovethics) tweeted the following statement: “Public financial disclosure reports for over 25,000 senior executive branch officials are due today. #transparency”
A number of questions remain with respect to the financial disclosure report that Donald J. Trump must file, and which is due on May 15th. Last year, President Trump filed his report a month late, which was not the norm- most prior presidents have been under the gun finding “it imperative to move heaven and earth to be sure the president’s disclosure report was filed on time” as Walter Shaub posted in a May 13 tweet. So, everyone will be watching to see if this year, President Trump will timely file them.
Whenever he files, a number of other significant issues may present themselves. For example, on January 28, 2016, Donald J. Trump assigned 114 trademarks to a newly formed LLC, DTTM Operations LLC, with its address at 724 Fifth Avenue. If you review Trump’s prior financial report that was due in 2017, Part I lists the entity DTTM and notes that Trump is a Member/President of DTTM. DTTM is listed a total of 41 times in the Form 278e that Trump has filed. What is not included anywhere in the list of assets or income generated is the portfolio of trademarks that Donald J. Trump assigned to DTTM, including Serial Number 86716074, Make America Great Again. Trump and the Trump Organization have referenced the substantial revenues generated by the portfolio of marks, and the OGE’s “Public Financial Disclosure Guide” includes instructions for reporting “intellectual property.” While Trump might have an exception for disclosure, none are readily apparent.
The other item that was not in the 2017 disclosure and ethics experts have insisted must be included in this year’s report is Trump’s debt to Michael Cohen for the Stormy Daniels payments (and maybe other payments). In a USA Today Opinion published on May 14, 2018, Shaub and Adav Noti open with the following, “Trump is out of loopholes.” The authors question whether Trump will actually disclose this debt, noting:
“The answer should be easy, but the president is in a difficult position. He left out the Daniels-related debt in the financial disclosure report he filed on June 14, 2017. Disclosing it now means acknowledging that he should have disclosed it last year. Disclosure may also lead to damaging revelations if he omitted other liabilities from any past financial disclosure reports or incurred new ones since June. As a result, the president’s team could be looking for a way to justify the omission.”
The authors conclude that no other loopholes appear to operate to avoid such disclosures, and as a result, “Trump should avoid giving Justice another potential violation to investigate” and “cut his losses” by disclosing. We will wait to see what Donald Trump discloses and when he discloses, knowing that there will be many scrutinizing to determine if these and other items have been omitted.
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Daniel Cotter is a lawyer writing and teaching about SCOTUS, and married father of two boys living in Chicago, Illinois.