NEW YORK — For more than a week, nobody at the Trump Organization wanted to talk about the mysterious new corporation from which President Trump earned more than $100,000 last year.
The new venture, T Retail LLC, came to light on Trump’s 92-page financial disclosure statement released last week, which describes it as an “online retail business.”
The company’s business registration activity matches the launch of TrumpStore.com, a new store selling goods emblazoned with the president’s last name which announced its launch in early November 2017. The store collects sales tax in the same four states as records reveal corporate filings for T Retail LLC.
The store sells everything from T-shirts and hats to dog leashes and gold bar-shaped coin banks branded with the “Trump” name. A can of Trump deodorant sells for $14, while a Trump bath robe costs $125.
Kathleen Clark, a professor at Washington University School of Law who specializes in legal and government ethics, said while the business does not appear to violate ethics standards, it is “seriously not normal” for a politician to personally profit from a new business based on the use of his or her name.
“The idea of opening up a store to sell merchandise with your name when your name is more prominent because you’re President of the United States — arguably this is another example of Trump trying to benefit financially from the presidency,” she said.
Donald J. Trump Jr., who is listed as the manager and president of T Retail LLC, did not respond to emailed questions. Nor did Trump Organization attorney Allen Weisselberg, who is listed as the corporation’s vice president, secretary and treasurer.
After declining to answer questions for more than a week about T Retail LLC, the Trump Organization spokeswoman said following publication of this story Thursday that it’s nothing new for The Trump Organization to sell merchandise bearing his name. The company has been selling those kinds of items online since long before Trump became president.
In its first few months, it appears business has been brisk. Trump’s income from T Retail LLC was $107,186 in the 2017 calendar year, according to his financial disclosure statement. Because the store opened in early November, the disclosure indicates President Trump — who has donated his presidential salary — earned about $50,000 a month from the online store selling items branded with his name.
While his sons are running his businesses, the companies have been placed in a revocable trust over which President Trump maintains sole ownership and can withdraw funds at any time.
The Trump Store also has a physical location in the basement of Trump Tower, which opened in late 2017. The Trump Organization said income from the physical store is not included in the $107,186 reported for the new online store.
On Trump Tower’s ground level, a gilded display case features a “Trump” shot glass, mug and other items sits next to a placard advertising the new “Trump Store” shop: “Visit our brand new flagship store for Trump apparel, accessories, and more!”
The store features neatly arranged mugs, T-shirts, golf gear and other items which feature the “Trump” name. The items do not include any markings or wording referencing the presidency.
The physical Trump Store does not sell Trump’s trademark “Make America Great Again” hats or any items related to the official Trump campaign. A separate campaign store selling those items is located just steps away in another area of the Trump Tower basement.
On a recent weekend, a worker at the Trump Store bustled to restock the shelves amid a steady flow of customers.
“These went like hotcakes,” the worker told one customer shopping for clothes. “I have no more in the back.”
The Trump Store worker volunteered to another visitor that Trump campaign items could be purchased in the store nearby.
“So this is the official Trump retail, and if you exit my store and go to the right that’s the official Trump campaign,” the Trump Store worker said. “They’re both official, but separate corporate entities.”
A kiosk in a corner of the physical Trump Store provides customers with access to the TrumpStore.com website.
Items bearing the name and image of a president have often been sold to raise funds for his campaign fund or for charity, but experts on ethics and the presidency could not cite prior examples of these items being sold for the president’s personal profit.
While the Trump Store appears to be “technically legal,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, “it does feel a little unethical.”
“You want to think that the president is above doing this kind of thing — that he’s not considering the presidency as a way to make him money, but as a sacrifice he’s taking in public service,” he said.
T Retail LLC is one of three significant business entities added to Trump’s disclosure statement since last year. Trump earned $20,002 in management fees from Westminster Hotel Management LLC, related to a hotel in New Jersey, and $26,667 from SC Cleveland MS MANAGEMENT LLC related to a Mississippi hotel venture.
Barbara Perry, Presidential Studies Director at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, said Trump is “an unprecedented president by virtually any yardstick,” including the connection between his personal brand and his public office.