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Trump’s future business plans may be hiding in plain sight

Three weeks before Donald Trump officially accepted the Republican nomination last year, the Trump Organization renewed licenses on hundreds of new domain names for business ventures at home and around the world—including CelebrityApprenticePoker.com, TrumpForeclosureInvesting.com and TrumpTowerMoscow.com.

The re-registration of domain names continued after Trump’s inauguration, with hundreds of sites kept for potential new businesses in Ireland, the United Arab Emirates, China, India and Indonesia once he was already in the Oval Office. Three weeks before Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago club in South Florida, the Trump Organization renewed its licenses for MarALagoClubAsia.com and theMarALagoClub.Asia.

There’s also TrumpOnIce.com and TrumpDrone.com.

Publicly available internet directory records analyzed by POLITICO from the domain registration database website WhoIs.com show thousands of sites registered by the Trump Organization’s general counsel, with many for existing Trump businesses, including some that have since been shuttered, but many that instead direct to holding pages.

They appear to provide a road map for ventures the president’s company has been considering, though some are in places that are now trouble spots for his presidency: TrumpRussia.com and TrumpUkraine.com were both renewed on June 29, 2016, while DonaldJTrumpSignatureCollectionVenezuela.com, TrumpApparelVenezuela.com, TrumpClothingVenezuela.com, TrumpHomeBathVenezuela.com, TrumpBeddingVenezuela.com and TrumpHomeAccessoriesVenezuela.com were updated on Oct. 14, 2016.

Trump has always been ambitious to expand, and his interest in building a Trump Tower in Moscow dates back at least as far as a visit to the Russian capital in 1996, during which he said he’d like to build a replica of his signature Fifth Avenue skyscraper there. While registration for TrumpTowerMoscow.com was renewed as recently as June 29, 2016, there do not appear to be any short-term plans to move forward on such a project, especially given that Trump is facing multiple investigations into whether his campaign colluded with the Kremlin ahead of the election. Currently, TrumpTowerMoscow.com, like most of the domains registered by the Trump Organization that aren’t active businesses, goes to a standard GoDaddy landing page.

Eric Goldman, a professor at the Santa Clara Law School and director of its High Tech Law Institute who’s written about corporate use of domain registration, said the Trump Organization’s activity could represent “very long-range planning or preemptive registration.”

Goldman said most companies tend to use holding companies or individuals for this kind of activity, which would be harder to track. Given the relatively minimal costs of buying hundreds of thousands of domain names at once, many companies also use automated systems which buy up thousands of variations on names, as well as all of them as .com, .info, .net and more.

The Trump Organization does not appear to have done either: a smaller, directed set of names can be traced back directly to its general counsel.

“It could be because the company’s thinking about moving in a particular direction and it wants to make sure it had had the domain name space to expand,” Goldman said, “or it can be to preempt a squatter, to avoid something else taking the domain name.”

Some of the registration renewals are perplexing. The president’s company renewed 79 site name variations of Trump University first registered from 2007 to 2009, from TrumpUHartford.com, TrumpUniversityTN.com to TrumpUniversityWealthBuilding.com, though Trump University had officially been shuttered in 2010 and was by last summer deep in the lawsuit that ultimately led to the president’s decision to settle for $ 25 million after being elected.

From TrumpExam to TrumpUNY

Trump’s company also renewed 59 other site names to potentially extend the Mar-a-Lago brand beyond Palm Beach, most first registered in 2012, from Chicago to Las Vegas to Panama and Toronto.

Since Trump’s election, membership fees have doubled to $ 200,000 annually at the original Mar-a-Lago in Florida, where the president flew to on Air Force One nearly every weekend during the early months of his presidency, often popping in to functions held there.

According to his personal financial disclosure filed this month, since he became president, Trump’s profits have spiked by millions of dollars at Mar-a-Lago and the Bedminster, N.J., golf course where he is spending most of his weekends in recent months.

Other sites renewed by the Trump Organization appear to reflect plans to leverage the personality that Trump marketed into a shocking self-propelled White House run, including LiveLikeATrump.com, LiveTheTrumpLife.com and ThinkLikeATrump.com, or for those looking for more permanence, TrumpInk.com and TrumpTats.com. Alternatively, people might have been able sign up for DownloadTheDonald.com, a site registered despite the president’s dislike of that New York tabloid-born nickname.

Then there are site names which, though registered in the same way as the others, may be defensive domain squatting to keep others from starting troublemaking websites, like TrumpNetworkPonziScheme.com, DonaldTrumpPyramidScheme.com, TrumpIsFired.com and TrumpVodkaSucks.com–the last registered all the way back in December 2005.

Old political sites like TrumpIsHired2012.com (registered Jan. 24, 2011) and DonaldTrump2012.com (registered Sept. 15, 2010) have been annually renewed, while new ones have popped up, including Trump2016.com (registered Sept. 2, 2014) and MakeAmericaGreatAgain.us (registered March 26, 2015)—both months before he launched his campaign. There are many in the names of Trump’s children and grandchildren as well.

But a large chunk of the domain names registered by the Trump Organization over roughly the last 5 1/2 years are more than 900 that point the way to potential foreign ventures. Many relate to known projects, like his golf course in Scotland and his apartment development in Mumbai.

From TrumpRussia to TrumpBelize

There are sites for 32 different Trump Tower ventures around the world, some of them built, and some of them not previously public, like TrumpTowerRome.com, TrumpTowerLondon.com and TrumpTowerBangkok.com, with apparent ambition for further expansion in both China and India.

Trump said during the transition that he was voluntarily turning over all management of his company to his two older sons, and they have said that they would not start any new overseas ventures while he is in the White House—but no proof has been provided that either is happening.

Trump also pledged during the transition that he would donate all profits to his businesses from foreigners to the Treasury Department. He never provided a structure for that, and earlier this month, his Justice Department argued in court that he can accept money from foreign governments.

Without information about what business ventures the privately held Trump Organization is continuing to pursue or the tax returns that the president is refusing to release, there’s no way to know to what extent his company is continuing to pursue projects. His financial disclosure released earlier this month indicated that he had resigned from official leadership of his corporations.

Bruce Boyden, an associate law professor at Marquette University who teaches copyright and internet law, said the Trump Organization reserving a domain name related to a possible business venture is not itself a signal that the company is actually pursuing it.

“Even if companies don’t have firm plans or even vague plans” to start a particular project, Boyden said, “they might just want to keep their options open.”

Most of the websites came up for renewal at the end of June 2016, when Trump had secured the Republican nomination but was still considered a long shot to win—a sentiment shared by the candidate himself and most of the people working on his campaign.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not respond to an email with questions about the domain registrations, if the president keeps his decisions on policy areas like Russia independent from interest in potential future projects like TrumpTowerMoscow.com, or if he has separated from decisions about pursuing them. Representatives from the Trump Organization did not respond to separate questions about why all the domain names were re-registered after Trump secured the nomination, if the company is pursuing these projects, or whether the domains’ registrations will be renewed again now that Trump is in the White House.

With many of the sites up for renewal at the end of June, it could be telling to see which domains the company chooses to refresh while Trump is in the Oval Office and combating criticism about conflicts of interest. Already since the inauguration, the Trump Organization decided not to renew about 100 sites it had registered, including IvankaTrumpWindows.info, IvankaPillows.org, EricTrumpFoundation.com and TrumpRent.com.

But as of now, the rest remain Trump Organization property, from TrumpBloodyMary.com and TrumpSparklingWine.com to TrumpHomeBeddingBolivia.com.

Copy edited by Sushant Sagar. Additional design and development by Lily Mihalik.

Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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