Alex Brandon / AP

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Federal Employees Used Government Charge Cards to Expense Rooms at Trump Hotels

Watchdog group says payments were unconstitutional.

A handful of federal employees used their government charge cards to book rooms at several different hotels operated by the Trump Organization, according to documents obtained by a government watchdog group.

The White House’s National Security Council paid $1,092 in March for a two-night stay at the Trump-owned Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, according to the documents obtained through a public records request by Property of the People. Also in March, the State Department’s embassy in Panama paid $632 for a stay at Trump’s hotel in Panama City, while the Coast Guard in June paid $186 for a stay at Trump ‘s Las Vegas hotel. Coast Guard employees also charged to their government cards $62 worth of food or drink at the federally owned, Trump Organization-operated hotel in Washington, D.C.

The federal spending raises questions about possible violations of the “domestic emoluments clause” of the Constitution, according to Property of the People. Clause seven of article two of the Constitution prevents the president from receiving “any other emolument from the United States” aside from the salary determined by Congress. Leadership of the organization releasing the documents called on the Justice Department to investigate a potential constitutional violation, saying, “These transactions, charged to official government charge cards, reflect a clear violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause and raise grave questions about the extent to which President Trump’s refusal to divest from his businesses has caused and is continuing to cause violations of the Constitution.”

Because the NSC and other federal employees paid the standard rate with no discount, the business owned by Trump and operated by a revocable trust received and earned a profit off of payments from government agencies. Property of the People Director Ryan Shapiro said the documents show “perhaps the clearest evidence yet” that Trump is involved in a constitutional conflict of interest.

“These invoices are strong evidence of a constitutional violation and they warrant a thorough investigation by the Department of Justice,” Shapiro said.  

The Mar-a-Lago rates were also higher than the federal government typically allows for its traveling employees. Federal employees are generally restricted by the per diem rates set by the General Services Administration, which in Palm Beach in March was $182. The National Security Council paid $546 per night.

The revelation comes as another watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, accused the Trump administration of defying a court order in limiting the information it released about Mar-a-Lago visitors. CREW, in conjunction with the National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute, sued for the visitor logs at the resort where Trump has spent many weekends since his inauguration.

A court ordered the Secret Service through the Justice Department to turn over its logs from Jan. 20 through March 8 by Sept. 15, but the agency provided only a list of those accompanying the Japanese prime minister during his February visit. The remaining records, Justice said, “relate to the president’s schedules” and therefore are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Noah Bookbinder, CREW’s executive director, said it would continue to fight in court for more information.

“The government seriously misrepresented their intentions to both us and the court,” Bookbinder said. “This was spitting in the eye of transparency.”