Too much information? Trump's donation cheque under spotlight

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany with US President Donald Trump's cheque for US$100,000 - to be donated from his salary - on Friday. His private bank account and routing numbers were visible.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany with US President Donald Trump's cheque for US$100,000 - to be donated from his salary - on Friday. His private bank account and routing numbers were visible.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON • It is a feel-good story that US President Donald Trump's press secretaries have relished over the years - the quarterly announcement of which government agency he has selected to be the lucky recipient of his salary, an easy way to show he was sticking to his 2016 campaign pledge to forgo his US$400,000 (S$570,000) salary and donate it.

In the past, the US$100,000 cheque from Mr Trump has been made out to the Small Business Administration initiative to help veteran entrepreneurs, to the Office of the Surgeon-General to fight the opioid epidemic, and to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, among others.

But on Friday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not just reveal that Mr Trump was sending his salary to the Department of Health and Human Services to help "support the efforts being undertaken to confront, contain and combat the coronavirus". She also displayed his private bank account and routing numbers.

The US$100,000 cheque she held up appeared to be a real cheque from Capital One, complete with the relevant details. An administration official said mock cheques were never used in the briefing.

Mr Judd Deere, a spokesman for the White House said in a statement: "Today, his salary went to help advance new therapies to treat this virus, but leave it to the media to find a shameful reason not to simply report the facts, focusing instead on whether the cheque is real or not."

For an average civilian, that information could be used to withdraw or deposit money, make online purchases or hack an account.

"It's not a best practice to share that information publicly," said Ms Eva Velasquez, president and chief executive of the Identity Theft Resource Centre.

"If you don't have protections in place, there are sophisticated schemes and ways someone could access those funds, knowing the account and routing number and the individual it belongs to."

Ms Velasquez said a bank was almost certain to have additional protections in place on the account of a high-profile person like the President, adding that Mr Trump was not likely to be hacked.

However, she said the image of Ms McEnany flashing Mr Trump's personal information in front of cameras sent a message of concern.

"This is one of those situations where setting the example is very important," she said.

"It's very important for your average person to understand this is not a best practice."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 24, 2020, with the headline 'Too much information? Trump's donation cheque under spotlight'. Print Edition | Subscribe