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Government Agencies Using Trump Hotels, Despite Official Ethics Advice

A bombshell report dropped late Thursday from the Washington Post showing just how much money Trump has pocketed from taxpayers by encouraging government agencies to use his properties for official government events — a practice his own ethics officials know is wrong but have been powerless to stop.

Trump earned at least $1.6 million from both the federal government and Republican campaigns which have used his properties. And the Post cautioned that the actual number is likely much, much higher, given that the numbers they crunched were only from the first half of 2017 when Trump first took office. Since then, Trump, GOP lawmakers, and administration officials have made many more stops at his properties.

In fact, GOP fundraisers admit that’s why they hold fundraisers at Trump hotels — it increases the chances Trump might show up.

Trump has also been successful in getting government agencies to use his properties. The Department of Defense shelled out $12,000 for rooms at Mar-a-Lago in early 2017. Other executive agencies racked up a $30,000 bill for hotel stays in April of that year as well.

The Post went on to report that ethics officials have “sought to dissuade” Trump from holding official events or taking trips to his properties — such as the out-of-the-way pit stop he made to his failing golf resort in Ireland during his U.K. state visit earlier this month — but have been ignored.

In fact, Trump has only gotten more brazen about his use of his properties.

Trump wants to hold a Group of Seven (G-7) meeting at his failing golf resort in Doral, Florida. That would mean foreign governments would be spending large sums of money at his property, putting money in Trump’s pocket in what looks like a blatant violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause that bans presidents from receiving payments from foreign governments.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Founders Foresaw Trump When They Wrote Emoluments Clause

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

That pesky, annoying caboose of legal problems for Donald Trump continues to move through the federal courts, thanks to a decision last week.

While Trump faces attacks on his taxes, his business practices and ethics, and the findings of the Mueller Report, this challenge focuses on the idea that Trump continues to bank profits from his hotel business while serving in the White House — an alleged abridgment of the “emoluments” clause of the Constitution.

In Washington, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan denied a Justice Department request to dismiss the lawsuit, filed in 2017 by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and 200 other members of the House and Senate who claim Trump is violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution by doing business with foreign governments through his hotels.

As summarized by Fortune Magazine, the judge’s ruling would allow the Democrats to start seeking financial records from the Trump Organization in a pre-trial exchange of information. The Justice Department can try to block that by appealing the ruling. Trump is already fighting congressional subpoenas for his tax information in court and has vowed to fight “all subpoenas.”

Sullivan in September ruled the Democrats have legal standing to pursue their claim, and held off deciding on the merits. Last Tuesday’s 48-page decision gives a detailed explanation for siding with the Democrats in a fight they say is crucial for battling corruption by the Trump White House.

As part of the clash, Democrats are using a broad definition of emoluments to cover profits from Trump’s businesses and Trump is seeking a narrow meaning. Sullivan said the Democrats had the more convincing argument.

Trump’s definition “disregards the ordinary meaning of the term as set forth in the vast majority of Founding-era dictionaries,” Sullivan said in his ruling. The judge also said Trump’s definition “is inconsistent with the text, structure, historical interpretation, adoption, and purpose of the clause; and is contrary to executive branch practice over the course of many years.”

Democrats argued the word is broadly defined “as any profit, gain or advantage.” The president countered that an emolument would be, for example, a payment from a foreign government for an official action or a salary from a foreign power.

The emoluments clause says that certain federal officials, including the president, can’t accept an emolument from “any King, Prince, or foreign State” without “the Consent of the Congress.” The congressional Democrats are seeking an order compelling Trump to notify Congress when he’s offered an emolument, giving them the option to vote on whether he can accept it. Blumenthal has called the emoluments clauses the Constitution’s “premier anti-corruption provision.”

Trump said he stepped down from running his $3 billion empire but retained his ownership interests, a decision the Democrats say violates the emoluments clause because he’s getting payments from foreign governments without congressional approval.

While the Democrats claimed they’re being denied the right to vote on the benefits, attorneys for the president say the matter should be resolved in Congress, not in court.

Meanwhile, Reuters has an interesting report about what appears to be another emoluments clause controversy. This one aims at how Trump has allowed at least seven foreign governments to rent luxury condominiums in New York’s Trump World Tower in 2017 without approval from Congress, according to documents and people familiar with the leases, a potential violation of the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clause.

The emoluments clause controversies started out as debates among legal scholars regarding provisions of the Constitution that had not been interpreted by any court of record in the United States since the adoption of the Constitution itself. Over the past two years, though, the issues raised have given rise to litigation across the nation and allegations of self-dealing and what some might call influence peddling through Trump’s businesses, in a form that has never been seen with any previous president.

IMAGE: Flags fly above the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel on its opening day in Washington, DC, September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

Seven Foreign Governments Quietly Renting Trump Condos

At least seven foreign governments were given the green light from the Trump State Department to pay out money that could find its way into Trump’s own personal bank accounts.

Reuters reported on Thursday that the governments of Iraq, Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Thailand, and the European Union were allowed to rent luxury condominiums in Trump World Tower in New York — even though doing so could violate the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits federal officials like Trump from accepting payments or gifts from foreign governments without the approval of Congress.

It also appears that Trump and his underlings understand the potential problems with this deal, and thus sought to hide it from congressional oversight.

“Congressional staffers confirmed to Reuters that the Trump World Tower lease requests were never submitted to Congress,” the outlet reported.

Trump’s electoral victory seems to have triggered a mad rush for those who wanted to influence U.S. policy to get money into Trump World Tower and into Trump’s pockets.

Reuters notes that in the eight months following Trump’s inauguration, foreign governments sent 13 notes to the State Department looking to rent or renew leases in Trump’s building. That was more foreign government requests in a short time window than in the last two years of the Obama administration; President Barack Obama did not open himself up to the appearance of bribery like Trump.

All of these foreign entities have major diplomatic and financial agreements and negotiations with the United States — and every decision Trump made regarding those governments could have been tainted by corruption.

“Letting this go without Congress knowing about it condones the creation of a second, opaque track of foreign policy,” Harold Hongju Koh, a professor at Yale Law School and former legal adviser at the State Department, told Reuters.

“This new information raises serious questions about the President and his businesses’ potential receipt of payments from foreign governments,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings told Reuters.

Trump has been trying to thwart investigations into him and his businesses by Cummings’ committee and others in Congress. When Republicans ran the House, they did not bother to investigate these violations of the law or ethics.

Trump refused to follow the tradition followed by both Democratic and Republican presidents of divesting of his personal business holdings before taking office or putting them in a blind trust.

This means that since Trump is still an active owner of the Trump Corporation, which owns the property in question, money that is generated by the company finds its way into Trump’s personal accounts.

Trump has a similarly corrupt operation in place with the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. Foreign governments, Republican Party committees and affiliated PACs, and lobbyists seeking to influence Trump are all doing business with his hotel.

The newly revealed condo arrangement with foreign governments is just one of many examples of how Trump’s presidency allows a culture of corruption to flourish.

Published with permission of The American Independent. 

IMAGE: President Donald Trump reacts during the swearing in ceremony for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who oversaw the State Department when foreign governments leased condos in Trump World Tower. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Romanian Prime Minister Is Staying at Trump’s D.C. Hotel

By Ilya Marritz, WNYC, Justin Elliott, ProPublica, and Zach Everson

The prime minister of Romania stayed at President Donald Trump’s hotel during her trip to Washington over the weekend. She is the first foreign government leader known to have booked a room at the property in more than a year.

The stay at the Trump International Hotel by Viorica Dancila, who is attending the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, provides the latest piece of evidence that Trump’s company continues to do business with foreign officials. Such payments could violate the Constitution’s anti-corruption provisions, which prohibit the president from accepting gifts or “emoluments” from foreign governments.

Dancila was seen Friday night inside the hotel’s atrium surrounded by a group of about eight people after leaving the hotel’s BLT Prime restaurant. She made her way to one of the building’s elevators, which are operated with room keys of hotel guests. She was seen again on Sunday, entering an elevator shortly after 6 p.m. On Monday she tweeted a picture of herself meeting with Vice President Mike Pence at AIPAC.

Trump still owns the hotel through a trust from which he can draw money at any time. Trump’s lawyers have rejected the idea that a hotel visit from a foreign official can be construed as an emolument, saying instead that it is a “fair value exchange” not addressed in the Constitution. Trump faces several lawsuits over the emoluments issue, filed by the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland, Democratic lawmakers and a government watchdog.

The Trump Organization has pledged to donate all profits from foreign governments to the U.S. government. As of February 2019, the company had provided the Treasury Department with more than $340,000. The company has not explained how it calculates foreign profits or disclosed if those figures were audited by an independent party.

It is not clear how many rooms the Romanians booked, what price was paid or who paid. The Romanian Embassy in Washington did not respond to phone calls or emails. Last year, the Romanian Consulate in Chicago held its national day celebration at the Trump hotel in that city.

A spokeswoman for the Trump hotel declined to comment. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The last foreign leader known to have to stayed at the hotel was Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, in September 2017.

Romania, a member of NATO, has a range of military and trade interests with the U.S. It recently increased its military spending, in accordance with Trump’s complaints that European states should bear more of the costs of their defense. Dancila has said she would like Romanian citizens to be able to travel to the United States without a visa; so far, the State Department has not added Romania to its visa waiver program.

While Dancila was in Washington, she announced her intention to move her country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, though it’s not clear whether that will happen. Last year, the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem, but few other countries have followed it.

Also during her visit to Washington, Romanian news outlets reported that Dancila met with executives of a number of companies, including three military contractors: Oshkosh Defense, Parsons and Textron.

Two key Trump allies have made overtures to the Romanian government since Trump was elected.

One of them is the president’s attorney in the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, Rudy Giuliani. Last August, Giuliani sent a letter to Romania’s president “to express my concerns about continuing damage to the rule of law in Romania being done under the guise of effective law enforcement.” Romania, which Transparency International ranks among the most corrupt countries in Europe, has seen several high-profile graft prosecutions.

Giuliani told the Washington Post he had been hired to write the letter by the consulting firm Freeh Group International Solutions, but he did not specify his client.

Giuliani was at the Trump International Hotel on Friday. He was not seen with Dancila, and his spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Another Trump associate, fundraiser Elliott Broidy, has also reportedly done business in Romania. The New York Times reported Broidy’s security company, Circinus, sought contracts with the Romanian government.

In January 2017, the leader of Dancila’s political party was a guest of Broidy’s at a celebration of Trump’s inauguration at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Liviu Dragnea posted a photo of Trump to his Facebook page the night before Trump was sworn in as president.

Broidy resigned from a Republican National Committee leadership post in 2018.

Dancila, who took office in January 2018, is an ally of Dragnea. Their political party, the Social Democratic Party, has a lobbyist in Washington, who was hired in 2017 to arrange a meeting between Dragnea and Trump, according to disclosure filings. Romanian media reported that Dragnea was invited to the AIPAC meeting but did not attend.

Dragnea himself has been a target of Romania’s prosecutors. He applauded Giuliani’s letter criticizing prosecutorial “excesses” in a statement on his website.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the U.S.-supported news agency, wrote in November that Dancila “has little executive power. Liviu Dragnea, the chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party, basically runs the government but can’t be prime minister because of a conviction for vote-rigging.”

 

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