A year into his presidency, Trump is breaking one of his big ethics pledges

A year into his presidency, no payments have been made.

The Trump International Hotel on August 10, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (CREDIT: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
The Trump International Hotel on August 10, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (CREDIT: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

An Associated Press report on Monday showed that despite President Trump’s pledge to donate all profits his hotels received from foreign governments, his business has not yet made a single payment to the U.S. Treasury.

In 2017, the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. hosted several events entertaining groups from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Kuwait, as well as another promoting business between the United States and Turkey. The initial deadline to make a donation of those profits was set for the end of last year, but the deadline came and went with no payout.

Advertisement

“Trump officials, who have openly questioned how closely they should scrutinize their guests…now say they would have ‘information to share’ near the end of next month,” the report added.

Overall, the Trump Organization has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits from various foreign governments in the past year, according to a report released earlier in January by Public Citizen.

“Donald Trump entered office with the most blatant and potentially corrupting conflicts of interest in the history of American politics, and things only got worse from there,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said in a release. “Business is booming at the Trump International Hotel in D.C., not because of the décor, but because corporations and foreign governments want to curry favor with the president.”

Alan Zibel, the Public Citizen report’s author, added, “Donald Trump is a man who is easily flattered. Corporations and foreign governments know the best way to get on his good side is to open up their wallets at one of Trump’s many businesses.”

Both reports contradict Trump’s earlier promises that he would not profit off of foreign contributions to his businesses. Shortly before his inauguration in January 2017, Trump’s attorneys responded to concerns about his many conflicts of interest — he maintains close ties to his businesses, despite handing over control of the Trump Organization’s daily operations to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr. — by arguing that he was not subject to the same rules as any other elected official. Still, they said, the president wanted to go above and beyond what was required of him by giving all profits from foreign officials staying at his hotels to the U.S. Treasury.

Advertisement

“Just like with conflicts of interest, he wants to do more than what the Constitution requires,” Trump’s tax attorney Sheri Dillon stated at the time. “So President-elect Trump has decided, and we are announcing today, that he is going to voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotels to the United States Treasury. This way it is the American people who will profit.”

In the months that followed, however, it was Trump’s businesses that profited, including the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, which raked in more than $37 million between January 2016 and spring 2017 — a dramatic increase from the $30 million reported in 2015 and $16 million in 2014. Analysts credited the sharp rise in profits to Trump’s frequent visits to what he has referred to as the “Winter White House”, as well as the club’s decision in January 2017 to up its membership fee to $200,000.

The Trump International Hotel in Washington also reported at least $20 million in profits during that time, despite having a lower-than-average occupancy rate. Part of the reason for the surprise profit — the hotel was projected to lose approximately $2.1 million in the first half of 2017, but turned a profit of $1.97 million instead, according to the Washington Post — was the hotel’s high room rates, which average out to around $652.98 per night. Visitors to the hotel also spent $8.2 million on food and drinks during that same period.

Part of those profits came from foreign entities, which captured the attention of ethics watchdogs. In June 2017, the hotel received $270,000 from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through the Quorvis MSLGroup, the Daily Caller reported. The group was working on behalf of the Saudi government to lobby against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which allows victims to sue foreign governments for “physical injury, death, or damage” sustained during an extremist attack.

“This is a textbook example of a foreign government paying directly into the President’s pocketbook while pursuing its own policy goals,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (MD), top-ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said at the time. “Saudi Arabia is spending vast amounts of money at President Trump’s hotel while at the same time pressing to limit the rights of U.S. citizens to sue the Saudi government.”

Advertisement

A White House spokeswoman at the time stated that Trump, who has refused to divest himself from his interest in the property and therefore rakes in the money from any of its high-profile visits, would donate “profits of this transaction” to the Treasury at the end of the year, which he still has not done.

In September last year, the White House once again came under fire for refusing to answer questions about the Malaysian prime minister’s visit to Washington, during which he and his delegation spent a considerable amount of time at the Trump International Hotel, hosting meetings and attending formal breakfasts in the property’s Lincoln Library room. According to the Washington Post, similar events of this size have, in the past, generated “hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the Trump Organization.”

When pressed on the details of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s visit, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued that the administration “certainly [didn’t] book their hotel accommodations” and had not influenced the prime minister’s decision to stay there.

“I’m not sure about if that came up. I’m not aware that that was ever discussed,” she said, according to Politico.

As ThinkProgress previously reported, a source has also claimed the Trump Organization pressured the Embassy of Kuwait to move its National Day celebration from the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown to the Trump International Hotel in mid-December 2016, shortly after Trump was elected. Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem al-Sabah later denied being pressured to move the event, saying that the change in venue “had nothing to do with anything else other than creating an exciting event for our guests.” Spokespersons for the Trump Organization and the Four Seasons declined to comment.

Advertisement

A lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) challenging the president’s various conflicts of interest — including potential violations of the emoluments clause forbidding presidents from accepting gifts or money from foreign states — was tossed out last month after a judge ruled that Congress should take up the issue themselves. Three other lawsuits targeting Trump’s business holdings are still pending, according to Mother Jones.

White House spokespersons did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday’s AP report.