The president is already running for re-election, spending campaign cash at Trump businesses
JUDY WOODRUFF: And just one more of the poll’s findings.
When asked about the president’s financial dealings, 33 percent of those polled say they believe he has done something illegal. An additional 28 percent feel he has done something unethical, but not illegal. And 31 percent believe he has done nothing wrong.
Our correspondent John Yang takes a closer look at ethical concerns over the president’s business interests and his unprecedented early reelection run.
JOHN YANG: The day President Trump took the oath of office, he did something no chief executive before him had ever done on Inauguration Day, filed the paperwork to be an official candidate for reelection.
The move allows him to raise, money more than $13 million in the first three months of the year, and hold rallies paid for by his campaign, like this one last week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re not even campaigning, and look at this crowd.
MAN: The president of the United States!
JOHN YANG: But he is campaigning. His first reelection event was just 29 days into his presidency. All five of his campaign-paid rallies have been in states he won in last year’s election: Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Iowa.
Campaign events give him greater flexibility, like being able to sell Make America Great Again merchandise.
MICHAEL STEEL, Republican Strategist: This is an opportunity for the president to spread his message directly to his most active and energized supporters. It’s also an opportunity to raise money, to sell merchandise. In some cases, like the fund-raiser here in Washington, it’s an opportunity to patronize his own business establishments.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And I am here to tell you about our incredible progress in making America great again.
JOHN YANG: They have been vintage Donald Trump.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We are going to start taking care of our country.
JOHN YANG: And they seem to boost Mr. Trump’s mood, getting him out of Washington and in front of enthusiastic crowds.
Tonight, here at the Trump International Hotel, just five blocks away from the White House, the first big fund-raiser of the 2020 campaign, it’s benefiting both the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. The top ticket is $35,000 a head.
The choice of venue highlights the flow of campaign cash into Trump Organization businesses, a practice, which is legal, of his first run that continues in his bid for reelection. The Trump campaign declined a request to comment for this story.
But deputy campaign manager Michael Glassner told the Associated Press that they chose the Trump Hotel because it’s a premier and convenient location. The president has walked away from day-to-day management of his hotels, golf courses and other businesses, placing all his assets into a trust, of which he’s the sole beneficiary.
Ethics lawyer Kenneth Gross says he’s never seen a candidate pay so much money to his own businesses.
KENNETH GROSS, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates: What we saw during the campaign is the campaign committee paying Trump facilities, whether it’s the Trump Hotel or Mar-a-Lago, or renting space from the Trump Tower in New York, which it did for the campaign headquarters, buying Trump steaks, Trump vodka, Trump wine, Trump ice.
All this is money from the campaign that eventually goes to fatten the wallets of Trump, Inc. I don’t know of anything illegal about having a campaign do a campaign visit at your own owned facility, as long as it’s arms-length. But I think, from an appearance standpoint, it’s not great.
JOHN YANG: The reelection campaign spent more than $6.3 million in the first three months of the year. More than $450,000 of that went to Trump businesses, including rent at the Trump Tower in New York and Trump hotels in New York and Las Vegas, catering from Trump restaurants, and thousands of dollars for Trump bottled water.
Critics say holding campaign events at Trump properties also gives them free publicity and added prestige. A lawsuit from the Democratic attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia alleges that, since Mr. Trump took office, goods and services sold by various Trump businesses have sold at a premium. It said room rates at his D.C. hotel have gone up hundreds of dollars.
KARL RACINE, D.C. Attorney General: Never in the history of this country have we had a president with these kinds of extensive business entanglements or a president who refused to adequately distance themselves from their holdings.
JOHN YANG: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called the suit partisan politics.
Tonight, at the Trump Hotel fund-raiser, the only politics on anybody’s mind is likely to be the 2020 campaign, as the man who rewrote the book on running for president appears to be trying to rewrite the book on running for reelection.
For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang in Washington.