During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump said he would turn down any salary as President. Then, in his first big interview as President-elect in November, he again insisted, “No, I’m not gonna take the salary. I’m not taking it.” Instead of accepting the $400,000 presidents get paid each year, Trump would take just $1 a year.
Well, it’s been almost two months and President Trump has received at least one pay-check—and he kept it.
Part of his struggle to keep his promise is that the Constitution gets in his way. It requires the president to receive compensation and prohibits the amount from being changed (in either direction) during the course of a presidential term.
In light of this, the White House tweaked the promise in February, with spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders explaining to Politifact, “He is required to get a paycheck but will be giving it back to (the) treasury or donating.”
But there has been no evidence to support this claim, and this week the White House refused to provide NBC News with any documentation that he’s taken such actions.
On Monday, the question came up at Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s press briefing. “The president’s intention right now is to donate his salary at the end of the year,” Spicer said. He then avoided any follow-ups by telling the White House Press Corps that they would get to help decide who Trump would donate the money to at the end of the year.
The press joked in response that the chosen charity should be the White House Correspondents’ Association—though of course that would be a massive conflict of interest.
The point remains that Trump is both taking his salary and keeping it.
Trump also claimed during the transition that any profits he made from foreign dignitaries staying at his hotels would likewise be donated to the U.S. Treasury. But there has been no evidence that this is taking place nor is there any mechanism for holding him accountable for that promise. And because Trump refuses to release his tax returns, there’s no way to independently verify.
It’s quite possible that Trump will simply break both promises—if for no reason that he’s made the exact same promise before and broken it.
Back in 2004, just before Trump first appeared on The Apprentice, he told Howard Stern that he would be donating his entire seven-figure salary from the show to charity. “Lots of charities: AIDS research, Police Athletic League, lots of different charities,” he said at the time. Three months later he admitted—again to Stern—that he was not donating the whole salary.
According to BuzzFeed’s reporting, Trump donated only $700,000 to his own foundation that year. And a Washington Post investigation last year found that Trump had only made one charitable donation—and it was only $10,000 —in the eight-year period of time between 2008 and last May, when he was pressured by the news media to follow through on a pledge to support a nonprofit for veterans’ families. This was in spite of at least $8.5 million in promised gifts during that time.
Trump thus has a reputation of pledging lots of money to charities, but actually giving very little. Whether his promises regarding his presidential salary and the foreign dignitary profits from his hotels will turn out any different remains to be seen.