Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen
Note: Today, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Trump Organization is exploring a sale of the rights to President Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel, an ownership Public Citizen has long maintained is ethically corrupt and illegal. Trump family members, nearly three years after their father entered office, say the move is inspired partly by criticism of the Trumps’ ignoring ethics laws and profiting from the presidency.
After daily violations of the Constitution’s anti-corruption clause and hundreds of political, foreign government and trade association events held at the Trump International Hotel, it’s a certainty that ethics are not the reason for the Trump Organization’s apparent interest in selling the hotel.
The Trump D.C. hotel has embodied the conflicts of interest and self-enrichment schemes that pervade the Trump administration, easily the most corrupt in modern American history.
Trump maintains the hotel – which he leases from the federal government – in violation of the plain terms of the lease, which prohibit federal employees from holding such a lease. And the hotel has been the site of countless violations of the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, which prohibits a president from accepting gifts or things of value from foreign governments (as in, for example, sizable payments from the Kuwait government for events at the hotel).
If Trump does in fact sell, it likely won’t happen until the end of his term of office or afterwards. Thus, a sale only would mitigate his conflicts in the event he is reelected. But it only would mitigate them slightly, because the Trump Organization continues to hold hotels, resorts and other business interests around the world.
If it occurred while Trump was president, the sale would almost certainly create a new, major conflict of interest. When we and others called for Trump to divest his business interests after the 2016 election, we made clear that the means to do so was to transfer his properties to a blind trust, with divestiture undertaken by an unaffiliated trustee. But Trump retained a financial stake in the organization, merely shifting management to his sons. If the Trump Organization puts out a for sale sign on the Trump International Hotel and seeks and takes bids, it will create massive conflicts of interests with the deep-pocketed individuals, foreign governments, investment funds or corporations that could afford to make such a purchase.