That is the way business has been done at the Trump Organization, a relatively small company with a big reach and a bigger self-image that has come under intense scrutiny as its chief prepares to become president of the United States.
With extensive entanglements around the world, many packaged in a network of licensing agreements and limited liability companies, the Trump Organization poses a raft of potential conflicts of interest for a president-elect who has long exerted such control over his company that, as he told The New York Times in a recent interview, he is the one who signs the checks. “I like to sign checks so I know what is going on,” he explained.
Mr. Trump — owner of all but the smallest sliver of the privately held company — has said that, while the law does not require it, he is formulating plans to remove himself and his older daughter, Ivanka, from the company’s operations. (Ms. Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, is likely to have a role in the White House.) His sons Donald Jr. and Eric, along with other executives, will be in charge, the president-elect wrote on Twitter in mid-December, adding that “no new deals will be done during my term(s) in office.” People involved in the planning have said that Mr. Trump intends to keep a stake in the business.
But in recent weeks, amid rising pressure, Mr. Trump and his advisers have been intensely debating further measures. Among other things, the president-elect has agreed to shut down his personal foundation, has ended some international development deals and has reviewed a plan for an outside monitor to oversee the Trump Organization.
Yet an examination of the company underscores the complex challenges of taking Mr. Trump out of Trump the organization.
His company is a distinctly family business fortified with longtime loyalists that operates less on standardized procedures and more on a culture of Trump. Mr. Trump may leave the details of contracts to his deputies, but his name — and influence — is stamped on every deal the company does.
In an interview last spring with The Times, Mr. Trump explained that he approved new ventures based on his personal “feel.” And while in recent years his three oldest children have taken on more of a leadership role, Mr. Trump has the final say, sometimes weighing in on the most minute design details of planned hotels, golf courses or other properties the company owns or manages.
His other top executives — many of them natives of Queens, where Mr. Trump grew up, or Brooklyn, where his father, Fred, expanded a housing empire many years ago — have secured power not necessarily through fancy pedigrees or impressive credentials, but through decades of devotion to their boss.
Allen Weisselberg, the organization’s chief financial officer, started off as an accountant for Mr. Trump’s father. Matthew Calamari, the organization’s chief operating officer, was recruited in 1981 after Mr. Trump saw him eject some hecklers while working security at the United States Open tennis tournament.
For some executives, there appears to be little division between their service to the company and their service to the Trumps.
“We’re not a publicly traded company. At the end of the day, I work for the Trump family,” Alan Garten, the general counsel, explained in an interview with the legal industry publication Corporate Counsel shortly before the election. “That’s how I view my job. Whether it’s protecting their business interests or protecting their personal interests. I am here to assist them and represent them in any way they need.”
When asked to elaborate in an interview last week with The Times, Mr. Garten said that in any job, “you want to be as helpful as you can,” but that “obviously the interests of the Trumps and the interests of the company are two distinct things.”
The divisions between business and politics were often fuzzy during the presidential race: Mr. Garten became a “liaison” to Mr. Trump’s campaign; Michael Cohen, an executive vice president, tirelessly promoted his boss’s bid for the White House on television while battling negative media coverage; and Jason Greenblatt, the company’s chief legal officer, began serving as his adviser on Israel. On Friday, it was announced that Mr. Greenblatt would be joining Mr. Trump’s administration as a special representative for international negotiations.
After the election, other lines continued to blur as the president-elect and his children met with foreign businessmen with connections to their global ventures and with foreign officials with potential influence over their business dealings.
Some government-ethics lawyers have warned that unless Mr. Trump fully divests himself from the company and places someone independent of his family in charge, he risks entering the White House in violation of a constitutional clause that forbids him from taking payments or gifts from a foreign government entity.
As Mr. Trump assumes the presidency, it is difficult to foresee him walling himself off from the company entirely, said Michael D’Antonio, the author of a critical biography, “The Truth About Trump.”
“I don’t think that he could keep himself from inquiring about the performance of these businesses any more than he can keep himself from tweeting,” Mr. D’Antonio said. “It is just too vital to his identity. Profit is the way he has always measured himself. I don’t see how he can stop.”
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