Should Trump Org GC Be Renewing Russia-Related Domains Right Now?

Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten went through the process last week of renewing website domains on behalf of the company, which is now run by President Donald Trump's two adult sons.

Among the more than 1,000 domain registrations are sites such as DonaldTrumpSucks.com. But as first reported by Politico, there were a couple of other domains renewed that come at a sensitive time for the United States as the administration's ties with Russia are drawing more scrutiny by the day.

Last week, Garten signed off on registration renewals for TrumpRussia.com and TrumpTowerMoscow.com—which raised some eyebrows given the current controversy, which includes an investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump's presidential campaign. According to Politico, hundreds of the web domains were due to expire in late June or early July.

In an email, Garten defended the domain registrations. "It is common practice for companies with established brands to purchase internet domains in large numbers for several reasons, one of the most important being the desire to prevent cyber-squatters from infringing on the company's intellectual property rights," he said. He did not comment specifically on the timing of the renewals. 

Sterling Miller, senior counsel at Hilgers Graben and former GC of Sabre Corp. and Travelocity, agreed in many ways the majority of these registration filings appear to be standard. As Miller scrolled through the database of domain names registered by the Trump Organization, he didn't think most of the domain name renewals were anything too unusual.

"A lot of these are basic defense tactics that any Fortune 500 company is probably registering to protect their own brands," Miller said. Aside from the Russia-related registrations, he said, "from a strictly legal standpoint, I'd look at these and shrug my shoulders."

Miller went on to say that Garten's job, though, as the top lawyer for Trump Organization, has no doubt changed drastically since Trump took office. And, fair or not, the business' top lawyers have to be mindful of the optics.

"Things that were just mundane, day-to-day duties before are potentially headlines," he explained.

Miller said he doesn't necessarily think registering the domain name TrumpRussia.com should be taken as evidence that Trump has any inappropriate relations with Russia. There is also a domain for TrumpScotland.org, for example.

"If I'm the GC for the Trump Organization, it's smart to register domain names when your company is so dependent on branding and it is so key to the business," Miller said. "If one [domain] is expiring, you'll renew them unless you want to let them go, and you can't necessarily control the timing."

He added though, that, "given everything going on with Russia, why would you want that floating around in the media?"

Miller finds the domain registrations for TrumpPonziScheme.com and TrumpScam.com to be more noteworthy. He said these domains reach beyond the generic posture that most companies are taking in their choice of registrations. For instance, he said, a company like General Electric is far more likely to register the web domain GeneralElectricSucks.com than GeneralElectricPonziScheme.com.

The two domains directly represent "what's going on from a legal battle standpoint" in the Trump Organization, Miller said.

Garten also renewed ImBeingSuedByTheDonald.com, TrumpNetworkMarketingFraud.com and TrumpNetworkPyramidScheme.com.

"These aren't just generic defense tactics … with all of the litigation involving [the organization], it makes sense," Miller said.

Editor

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Stephanie Forshee

Stephanie Forshee is a writer for Inside Counsel magazine. Previously, she has worked for the Puget Sound Business Journal, the San Fernando Valley Business Journal and Auto...

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