Speed Reads

Trump Cash

If Donald Trump becomes president, what would happen to his business empire?

The Clinton Foundation is developing a plan to insulate Hillary Clinton from potential conflicts of interest if she is elected president: Bill Clinton will stop fundraising and leave the board of directors, though Chelsea Clinton may stay on, and the main foundation will stop accepting corporate and foreign donations but the global Clinton Health Access Initiative may not. But what would happen to Donald Trump's sprawling business empire if he's elected? It's not clear.

If his assessment of his wealth is accurate, Trump would be the wealthiest person elected president, and his holdings include skyscrapers, hotels, golf courses, a winery, a clothing line, and other ventures, many of them abroad, most of them tied to the Trump brand. In a debate in January, Trump said to avoid (unusually large) potential conflicts of interest he would put all of his assets in a blind trust (probably) and leave management of his business to his children, but on NBC News on Wednesday night, lawyer and presidential financial disclosure expert Ken Gross said that "to set up a blind trust in the U.S. executive branch is actually quite difficult, and your children can't run it as a legal matter."

In the New York Times article the NBC report featured, Susanne Craig shows that Trump's various companies hold at least $650 million in debt in the U.S., often in complex partnerships with lenders including the Bank of China and Goldman Sachs. The Trump Organization's CFO said that Trump was personally liable for only a "small percentage of the corporate debt" Trump listed on his financial disclosure filing. But he has a clear financial interest in those loans, and his "opaque portfolio of business ties makes him potentially vulnerable to the demands of banks, and to business people in the United States and abroad," Craig writes, citing Richard Painter, George W. Bush's White House ethics lawyer.

"The success of his empire depends on an ability to get credit, to get loans extended to his business entities," Painter told The New York Times. "And we simply don't know a lot about his financial dealings, here or around the world." Legally, Trump would not have to sell off any of his business holdings or shield himself from their management if he becomes president. So as with many of his plans for the White House, what happens to his business empire has a distinct patina of "trust me."