Shortly before moving into the White House, Donald Trump promised to turn over “complete and total control” of his business to his adult sons Don Jr. and Eric. “They are not going to discuss it with me,” the then-president-elect assured the nation he was about to govern — though, a couple months later, Eric Trump admitted that he would still provide his father with “profitability reports and stuff like that” at least every quarter.
Now, a new report by The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff suggests that President Trump may have far more direct involvement with his businesses than he promised nearly a year ago.
Woodruff quotes an email from Jeng Chi Hung, director of revenue management for the Trump Hotel in Washington, DC. “DJT is supposed to be out of the business and passed on to his sons, but he’s definitely still involved,” Hung wrote in that email. “I had a brief meeting with him a few weeks ago, and he was asking about banquet revenues and demographics. And, he asked if his presidency hurt the businesses.”
A more senior official with the Trump Hotel denies the significance of Hung’s email, claiming that Hung “made these comments up in an effort to enhance his sense of importance to a former employer.”
If Hung’s email is accurate and Trump continues to direct his business while also sitting at the apex of the nation’s executive branch, that raises profound conflicts of interest because Trump as president could shape policy in ways that benefit his bottom line. This is especially true if Trump is seeking information on how his role as an ostensible public servant impacts his business dealings.
Woodruff’s reporting suggests that much of the Trump Organization is, indeed, hurting now that its founder and namesake is an unpopular president and white nationalist icon. Some Trump-branded properties are trying to rebrand under a different name, in one case paying a multi-million dollar penalty to do so. In other cases, Trump properties have been surrounded by protesters.
Trump’s Washington hotel, however, has been the exception to this pattern — bringing in nearly $2 million in profits in just four months, according to the Washington Post. The Trump Organization previously predicted it would lose $2.1 million during the same period.
As the Post notes, “the hotel has emerged as a Republican Party power center and popular destination for conservative, foreign and Christian groups holding meetings in Washington.” Among other things, Neil Gorsuch, who occupies a seat on the Supreme Court that Senate Republicans held open for a year until Trump could fill it, gave a controversial speech at the hotel — a speech that drew concerns from ethics experts because it gave the impression that Gorsuch may favor Trump in matters before the Supreme Court.
The Trump hotel has also attracted business from foreign diplomats apparently seeking to curry favor from Trump. Last December, while Trump was still president-elect, ThinkProgress reported that the Embassy of Kuwait abruptly canceled a contract with the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown and moved an event to the Trump Hotel. We reported at the time that “members of the Trump Organization pressured the ambassador to hold the event at the hotel owned by the president-elect.”
Indeed, Arturo Sarukhan, who served as Mexico’s ambassador to the United States from 2007 to 2013, tweeted last month that a former U.S. diplomat told him that the U.S. State Department is actively encouraging world leaders to use the Trump Hotel for official visits.
Under the Constitution, no “person holding any office of profit or trust” under the United States may “without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”