Conflicts Abound as Trumps Toy With Selling DC Hotel

The Trump International Hotel is seen on Jan. 23, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Trump International Hotel, located just blocks from the White House, might be going up for sale after years of controversy surrounding conflicts of interest.

Reports surfaced Friday that the Trump family was looking to part ways with the business that frequently hosts foreign diplomats and corporate giants looking to garner favor with President Donald Trump.

“Since we opened our doors, we have received tremendous interest in this hotel and as real-estate developers, we are always willing to explore our options,” Eric Trump said in a Friday statement to The Wall Street Journal. “People are objecting to us making so much money on the hotel, and therefore we may be willing to sell.”

Democrats have filed federal lawsuits in both Washington and New York seeking documents they say will expose how Trump’s sprawling business empire enables unconstitutional ties with foreign leaders. 

Aside from having sparked the ongoing impeachment, even the memo of Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call from July reveals the Ukrainian president made a point to tell Trump he had patronized his business. 

“Actually last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower,” said Zelensky, adding he hoped to visit New York again in the future.

Last year, in a Second Circuit hearing, an appellate judge said Trump’s businesses were an obvious concern. 

“The Trump restaurants and hotels are offering something that nobody else can offer,” U.S. Circuit Judge Pierre Leval said, identifying this as the ability to “line the pockets of the president.”

The president and his children leased the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue back in 2013 to open up the hotel. Trump claims not to profit directly off the hotel because any income from the business lies in revocable trusts controlled by his children. 

Melanie Sloan, a senior advisor at the watchdog agency American Oversight, called the claim a red herring. 

“Mr. Trump has seemed to have had a lot of control and interest over the Trump organization throughout his presidency,” Sloan said. “It’s also clear that the Trump hotel gets business because of his presidency.”

Last week, in a 71-minute cabinet meeting, Trump said, without being asked about his business prowess, “I’m very good at real estate.” The president went on to validate the now-called-off plan to host the G-7 Summit of world leaders at this hotel in Miami. 

“Everybody would have had their own building,” Trump said in the Oct. 21 cabinet meeting. “Everybody in the G7 would have had their own building. It was so good. Florida loved it. They love economic development. It’s — it’s not because — it’s a beautiful place, it’s new, it’s been totally rebuilt. It’s new. Everything is new. It’s got massive meeting rooms. Unlimited for security because it’s on, you know, hundreds of acres. Best location.”

Democrats say Trump’s Pennsylvania Avenue hotel — where rooms start on average at $400 a night — invites violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, prohibiting the president from receiving gifts from foreign or state governments or officials while in office without congressional consent.

After Trump took office, the General Services Administration ruled the 60-year lease agreement Trump made with the federal government was in compliance. In a recent cabinet meeting, the president called the emoluments clause “phony.” 

Sloan suggested the announcement Friday may be an attempt to take a point of controversy off the table in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. But the former federal prosecutor said the Trump family is mistaken if they think this will halt the ongoing litigation over the hotel. 

“The only reason it’s not hard to think they would is often their understanding of the law doesn’t seem that strong,” Sloan said. 

Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, said the watchdog agency has tracked 694 visits to the hotel by Trump, executive branch officials, members of Congress and foreign government officials.

“In many ways, the Trump International Hotel is most emblematic of the corruption that has come to characterize his presidency ever since he chose to retain ownership of his businesses,” Libowitz said. “If there is a scandal or influence-peddling with this administration, there’s a decent chance the Trump Hotel is involved.”

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