After President Donald Trump won the GOP nomination, his real estate companies made a dramatic shift toward selling units to shell companies that would keep buyers' names secret. The trend has left ethics experts concerned that buyers could try to influence the president while remaining anonymous.
In July 2016, Trump officially won the GOP nomination for president after a contentious primary, according to NBC News.
In the two years prior to his nomination, The Trump Organization had sold 212 real estate units. Only 9.6 percent of those units were sold to limited liability companies, or shell companies that shield the buyers' identities.
As of May 26, The Trump Organization had sold 41 units since the president clinched the GOP nomination. 70.7 percent of those sold units were facilitated by LLCs, meaning that their buyers are not in the public record, according to a journalistic investigation by USA Today.
After winning the 2016 presidential election, Trump faced intense pressure to divest himself from The Trump Organization in order to avoid conflicts of interest while serving in office.
On Jan. 11, the president announced that he would not divest from his businesses, but would instead hand control over to his two eldest sons, Donald Jr. and Eric.
Former White House ethics adviser Norman Eisen of the Obama administration warned at the time that Trump would be plagued with ethics concerns if he did not make a clean break from his business empire.
"Mr. Trump's ill-advised course will precipitate scandal and corruption," Eisen said, according to Reuters.
The profits of The Trump Organization's real estate sales go into a trust that only the president can draw funds from.
Attorney Jack Blum of Washington state, a specialist in financial crime, expressed alarm that The Trump Organization had pivoted toward LLCs following Trump's nomination.
"If what's going on is somebody is buying something from The Trump Organization to buy favor, there's no way you'd ever figure out who that person is or what favor they're trying to buy," Blum said.
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island has sponsored a bill that would mandate more transparency from real estate buyers who use LLCs.
"It's easy: simply disclose who the party of interest is on the other side so we know it's an ordinary business transaction and it's not influence peddling," Whitehouse said.
On June 13, 190 Democratic lawmakers filed a lawsuit against Trump, alleging that the president had violated the Constitution's Emoluments Clause by making business deals with foreign governments before asking permission from Congress, NPR reports.
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut released a statement calling on Trump to "either sell his vast holdings… or he must tell us and disclose now."