While the nation watches President Trump's tweets, his “locked and loaded” threats to North Korea, and his needling of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the GOP failure to repeal and replace Obamacare (Jeff Sessions must be relieved), a curious thing has happened.
The Washington Post reports that the Trump International Hotel, just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, turned a $2.1 million profit over the first four months of 2017 – defying expectations of a $2 million loss.
How did that happen? Well….
“Driving the profits are the extraordinary prices guests have been willing to pay for rooms, including members of Trump’s Cabinet who have stayed or lived there, as well as big spending on food and beverages in the meeting areas, bar and restaurant — spots frequented by members of Trump’s inner circle and other Republican leaders,” the Post wrote. “This year, guests have paid an average of $652.98 a night to stay there, beating the company’s expectations by 57 percent, according to documents posted online recently by the General Services Administration.”
Industry experts say that it is common for a new hotel to lose money in the early months of business as the hotel gets established, marketing takes root, and customers find the business. In fact, turning a profit in the early months is unusual. Which is the problem with Trump International Hotel’s success.
It’s hard to imagine the Trumps would be profiting from the hotel already had Trump not moved into the White House seven months ago. And remember, the Trump Organization leases the hotel building from the federal government, despite a rule that bars elected federal officials from holding leases on federal property. Yet the General Services Administration – whose employees work for the president – said that because Trump is not involved in operations of the Trump Organization, he’s not violating that lease rule. Never mind that he’s the majority owner of the business.
Tortured logic, that. And it doesn’t build much confidence in the independence of the GSA.
Trump’s conflicts of interest are unprecedented for a president. He already has made at least 48 visits to golf courses he owns, each visit an ad for the family enterprise (he’s currently at the Bedminster, N.J., golf course for more than two weeks). However, Trump’s presidency seems to be bad for business at his Rancho Palos Verdes golf course.
Trump has abjectly refused to divest, which would be a step toward giving the nation confidence that he’s looking out for our common interests, not his personal and family interests. He made a big show of removing himself from operations and decision-making at the Trump Organization, but he still pockets his share of the profits from the family business now ostensibly run by two of his sons, Eric and Donald Jr. It’s astounding that his “drain the swamp” supporters don’t take issue with such overt self-interest by the president.
There is no plausible defense for this self-enrichment, and I hope lawsuits, including those by neighboring states and restaurant competitors in Washington, bring the issue to a head — and sooner rather than later. The longer this drags out, the more Trump reaps from his status as president.
Sure, it would be nice if the legal cases were able to squeeze into the public records some of Trump’s tax returns, which he has also refused to release. But public release of tax returns by presidents is a tradition, not a requirement. “Emoluments” – gifts, fees or profits – to the president by foreign powers are specifically banned in the Constitution. Yet that has been happening on a regular basis at the Trump International Hotel.
“Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?’” one foreign diplomat said shortly after the election.
Foreign diplomats consciously making reservations and holding events at Trump International Hotel is a prima facie violation of the emoluments clause. Trump has made clear that he will not resolve these conflicts of interest willingly – he reneged on a pledge to donate all profits from foreign governments, same as he reneged on a promise to release his tax returns.
You’d think Congress, in a robust and functioning representative democracy, would stir itself to call the president to account for his conflicts of interest and acceptance of emoluments.
But in Congress, loyalty to party comes before loyalty to the people, or to the Constitution. And behind the desk in the Oval Office, loyalty to the family’s bottom line comes before all.
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