On Monday, the Trump Organization announced the launch of a new hotel chain inspired by the experiences President Donald Trump’s adult sons, Eric and Donald Jr., had while traveling the country during their father’s presidential campaign.
The so-called “American Idea” chain is beginning with three hotels in Mississippi, a state Trump won by 18 points, according to the Washington Post. Mississippi is also home to the first dozen new “Scion” hotels owned by the Trump Organization, which continues to be owned by the president. Days after the inauguration, the Trump Organization announced plans to triple the number of Trump-branded hotels in the country.
On Tuesday, Eric and Don Jr. — both of whom promised to distance themselves from their father’s administration — were on Good Morning America to talk about their new hotels and defend their dad.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) June 6, 2017
At one point, reporter Tom Llamas asked Don Jr., “Critics may say, ‘American Idea, you’re going to build hotels in Trump country’ — are you trying to make money off the politics?’”
Despite acknowledging that the American Idea chain was inspired by his dad’s campaign, Don Jr. rejected the suggestion that the Trump Organization is trying to profit off of the Trump presidency, saying, “it has nothing to do with politics.”
“We’re trying to make money off of a hotel brand that we feel there is an under-served market to,” he said. “I think more companies could probably do better by being a little more patriotic.”
Eric acknowledged he gives his father regular profits reports about the business — a practice that is at tension with the promise his father made in January that his sons were “not going to discuss” business with him. (In April, ProPublica reported that Trump can still draw profits from his business.)
While Eric insists his father has no conflicts of interest, ethics experts disagree. The Post report about American Idea notes that “[g]overnment ethics experts worry that developers seeking to curry favor with the president will be eager to help him in his new chains. They say their investments could work just like a campaign contributions, but without any limits on spending and disclosure requirements.”
During the part of the Good Morning America interview dealing with politics, Eric and Don Jr. recited their father’s talking points. The FBI investigation into the Trump campaign for possible collusion with Russia is “the greatest hoax of all time,” Eric said. (Llamas noted that Eric and Don Jr. met with FBI agents the day before Trump decided to fire former FBI Director James Comey.) The Trump administration is being undermined by government bureaucrats actively working against the president, Don Jr. said.
Meanwhile, despite his promise not to meddle in his father’s politics, Don Jr. used his social media channels last Thursday to blatantly hawk merchandise benefiting a political action committee working on behalf of his father’s reelection.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) June 1, 2017
Don Jr.’s posts come about a week after he, Eric, and Eric’s wife Lara held multiple meetings with Republican National Committee officials in Washington, D.C.
“Their appearance at the RNC irked at least two prominent Republicans who were briefed on the session, who wondered whether it was appropriate for the president’s sons, who run the Trump family real estate business, to be highly involved in discussing the party’s strategy and resources,” the Washington Post reported.
The reciprocal financial interests at work are clear. Since becoming president, Trump has repeatedly visited properties bearing his name, raising their profile as a result. In turn, his sons have leveraged that exposure into marketing opportunities. For instance, in late March, Don Jr. promoted the Trump National Golf Club in suburban Virginia on his social media accounts on the Monday following a weekend during which President Trump had visited the club twice.
The message is unmistakable: to curry favor with the president, do business with his family. That type of conflict of interest is exactly what the constitutional prohibition on emoluments is intended to prevent.
Trump could have easily avoided these conflicts by following the precedent set by other presidents and divesting from the Trump Organization before he took office.
In March, Jed Shugerman a professor at Fordham University Law School who is working on legal strategies to hold Trump accountable for violating the Constitution by profiting off his office, told ThinkProgress that “it is shocking that Trump would take on the office of the presidency without just doing what every other official in a remotely similar position has done in the past.”
With regard to Trump’s conflicts of interest, Shugerman said that “every ethics lawyer knows how easy it would be to fix this problem.”
“Put assets in to a blind trust, divest, or hand over the business to another set of people who are not conflicted, and then you can have some other entity control Trump Tower during the presidency and he can always buy it back,” he continued. “Given that he ran for the presidency and has the privilege of being president, it was foreseeable from the very beginning that these conflicts would happen. If you want to be the president, there are costs to being president.”