Proceeds from foreign government guests at the president's luxurious Washington hotel remain controversial.
As he promised in the run-up to his inauguration, President Trump has sent a donation to the Treasury Department to make up for the controversial profits his private firm gained from foreign government guests staying at his luxury hotel just blocks from the White House.
“I can confirm receipt of the check,” a Treasury spokesperson told Government Executive on Thursday. But neither Treasury nor the Trump Organization would say how much money was donated, from which countries the foreign visitors came, or how the profits were calculated.
On Monday, the Associated Press was told by Trump Organization Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance Counsel George Sorial that the donation was made on Feb. 22 and includes profits from Jan. 20 through Dec. 31, 2017.
The company’s 2012 lease of the historically protected Old Post Office Building from the General Services Administration became controversial after Trump won the presidency. The unprecedented dual role as chief executive and tenant prompted an array of lawsuits claiming unfair competition with neighboring restaurants and possible violation of the Constitution’s foreign Emoluments Clause, which bars a president from accepting expensive gifts from foreign governments.
Trump’s solution, announced during the transition period, was to place his vast business interests in a trust run by his family and to donate the profits from foreign hotel guests to the treasury.
One of Trump’s ethics critics and a participant in the lawsuits is George Washington University law professor Steven Schooner, formerly with the White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy. “With this undisclosed, and almost certainly inadequate, sum, the Trumps bought some positive news coverage from the least sophisticated media platforms,” he told Government Executive on Thursday. “This empty gesture fails to address a number of critical, important issues, most which make a mockery of the public's expectations regarding transparency in governance.”
Besides not disclosing the amount donated or the nationalities of the guests, the Trump Organization’s claim of “giving up the profits is laughable. Emoluments are benefits, and the benefits associated with payments from foreign officials are far greater (or broader) than ‘profits,’” Schooner said in an email. “Booking empty rooms in a month that a hotel is losing money may not generate a profit, but, by reducing losses, it's obviously a benefit and a welcome gift to the Trump family.”
Finally, he said, “the Trumps made clear they would not make any effort whatsoever to try to determine whether the source of funds was a foreign government (or a foreign official) or a front or intermediary or domestic agent facilitating (or, let's be clear, laundering) the transaction. The whole thing is, at best, kabuki theater.”
Neither the Trump Organization nor Trump’s Washington attorney, Sheri Dillon of Morgan Lewis, responded to inquiries.
Image via Andriy Blokhin/Shutterstock.com.