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How Trump's Businesses Benefited During His Presidency

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When Donald Trump took office four years ago, he did not divest himself of the businesses that made him rich, a move which his critics said would lead to countless conflicts of interest. Well, since then, U.S. taxpayers have paid Trump properties for security costs involved in hosting hundreds of presidential visits. Foreign and domestic politicians have paid for countless stops at his hotels and resorts. And so as he leaves office, a question - has the Trump presidency been good for the business of the Trump Organization? Well, here to walk us through that is Andrea Bernstein, host of the "Trump, Inc." podcast from WNYC.

Hey, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise. Great to talk to you.

KELLY: And to you - let's start at Day 1 of Trump's presidency because the first conflict of interest had already popped up. It involved his inauguration. Remind us what happened.

BERNSTEIN: So during the inauguration - the last one - there was a move by the inaugural committee, which is a charity, to book some events at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., which is a fine thing to do. But when the charity came and said, hey, give us a break; we're a charity, the response of the Trump Organization was, no, we're going to charge you a very hefty sum. And there was some investigation that went into it. We at "Trump, Inc." worked very hard on this. And what we found was that members of the Presidential Inaugural Committee had warned the Trump Organization that this would look bad if it ever came out. And it did come out thanks to "Trump, Inc." D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine is investigating. He recently deposed Ivanka Trump, and it very well could be that the Trump Organization is found liable for having profited from the presidency from the get-go.

KELLY: So that litigation is ongoing. Just before we move on from the Trump Hotel here in Washington, I'm thinking it has been the focus of so many allegations of self-dealing, of pay-to-play within the Trump administration. Just the bar in the lobby - just take that one space. Before the pandemic, you could walk in any night of the week, and it was a living case study in conflicts checks.

BERNSTEIN: Right. I mean, that was the point. And Trump made it very clear that he would favor people who patronized his hotel. There was just one day in April of 2018 when a group of executives from T-Mobile who wanted Justice Department approvals for their merger checked into the hotel. That same day, Trump held a fundraiser with two business associates of Rudy Giuliani, who had contributed $300,000 to a superPAC related to Trump and were, therefore, able to go straight to Trump to pitch their idea for a gas company in Ukraine. That was what was going on at the hotel. And President Trump made it very, very clear that if you paid him, you could play.

KELLY: I'm remembering all kinds of figures from the Russia investigations making their way through that lobby as well. What are another business entanglement or two that will stick out to you as you look back over these four years?

BERNSTEIN: Well, I think it is the way Trump used his bully pulpit, which he promised he wouldn't, to promote his properties - the way he would constantly patronize his own golf resorts, the way he would host world leaders at his resorts, the way he even touted his own properties at events like the infamous press conference he held after the events in Charlottesville in 2017. He talked about - that he had a winery near Charlottesville. And there was actually a proposal floated from the White House to hold the G-7 summit at his resort in Dural. It was at that point that some Republicans said no. But it shows you how far gone we moved under the Trump administration, where this very quickly seemed normal for the president to be using the White House to help out his business and his brand.

KELLY: All right, so that brings us up to now. He exits the White House tomorrow. Where do things stand? Where does Trump stand with his businesses?

BERNSTEIN: Well, it's bad for him. And I would argue it's even worse than the last time he faced serious troubles, which was when his casinos declared bankruptcy. And that's because there isn't a banker in the world that didn't see what happened January 6 in the Capitol and that doesn't believe that they would lose money by financing Donald Trump. His bankers have walked away from him. Real estate brokers have walked away from him. The Professional Golf Association, I think, is the biggest cut for him, his sort of et-tu-Brute moment, where they said we are not hosting the Championship in 2022 at your club. So Donald Trump faces a situation where his customers are not his political backers, and there's a disconnect. And there's going to be a real financial reckoning coming at the same time he needs to find lawyers, who he also famously doesn't pay, to represent him in the multiple investigations going forward.

KELLY: Financial reckonings and legal reckonings in the days to come for Donald Trump - that is Andrea Bernstein, host of the "Trump, Inc." podcast from WNYC and author of "American Oligarchs: The Kushners, The Trumps, And The Marriage Of Power And Money."

Thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.