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The Week Of Blurred Lines Between President Trump And Businessman Trump


President Trump spent yesterday golfing with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Florida. The visit has been controversial because Abe's staying at Mar-a-Lago, the president's resort in Palm Beach. It's the latest example of the blurred lines between Trump's businesses and his role as president. We're joined by NPR's Jim Zarroli, who's been covering the story. Hey, Jim.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. What's the problem with President Trump hosting a world leader at Mar-a-Lago?

ZARROLI: Well, this is a property that Trump owns. It's one of his flagship properties. You know, George W. Bush used to have world leaders - people visiting him at his ranch in Texas. But this is different because this is a working business that Trump owns. So the question that comes up is, who is paying for it? And is Donald Trump making money off an official state visit?

And then, really, this is just one more example of the problems that ethics experts have been talking about ever since Trump was elected. He has a lot of businesses, and he's going to have a lot of opportunities to profit off the presidency.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Well, who is paying for this particular visit? Has Trump responded to the criticism?

ZARROLI: Yeah. He came out and said he would pay for the rooms himself, which addresses part of the problem but not all of it because, even if he does pay for the rooms, this is really good publicity for Mar-a-Lago. It's worldwide publicity. It's the kind of publicity that money can't buy. So ethics experts say he is still benefiting from having the prime minister there. And that's a problem.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. The president also owns a hotel in Washington, D.C. And that's raised more ethical concerns. This week, NPR's Peter Overby reported that President Trump has put the hotel into what's called a revocable trust. What is that? What does it mean? And is that hotel no longer an issue?

ZARROLI: Yeah. The D.C. hotel has been a particular problem because it is owned by the federal government. It's a former post office. And Trump leased the building from the General Services Administration. And the lease says that the president or vice president or elected official isn't supposed to be on the lease. So there's a problem there right away.

Now, to address this, the president has turned over the management of the hotel to one of his sons. He's also placed the hotel in the revocable trust. That's meant to sort of create a barrier between the property itself and the president. But it doesn't really do that because the profits of the hotel still flow to the trust, which flows to Trump himself. And as the name implies, he can revoke it at any time he wants. So that doesn't really address the ethical issues.

And there's still a big question mark about - you know, what is the General Services Administration going to do? How are they going to handle this? There have been reports that the Trump Organization is in negotiations with the GSA to try to come up with some kind of solution to the problem. It's not clear what they're going to do.

You know, in the past, they've sort of come up with some half solutions to address issues like this - haven't always been, you know, satisfying to ethics people. But we may see some kind of resolution to this, you know - and soon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. NPR's Jim Zarroli, thanks so much for joining us.

ZARROLI: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BAD PLUS'S "NEVER STOP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.