Artist Robin Bell projects messages onto the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 2017.
WASHINGTON ― House Republicans having trouble scaring up impeachment-worthy evidence of foreign payments benefiting a former vice president might be in luck: There’s plenty of proof of such payments going to an actual former president ― the de facto leader of their own party.
House GOP leaders eager to politically damage Democratic President Joe Biden are scheduled to begin an “impeachment inquiry” Thursday, even as they struggle to prove he benefited from payments to his son, Hunter, by foreign interests during the years he was vice president.
They would have no such trouble, though, finding proof that Biden’s coup-attempting predecessor, Donald Trump, received tens of millions of dollars from foreign interests each year of his term through his various properties, including a hotel just five blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. In all, Trump received $160 million from foreign sources during his time in office, according to an analysis of his tax returns, including $7.5 million from China.
“Millions of dollars went into Trump’s golf courses, Trump’s resorts, Trump’s hotels, and of course the Trump International Hotel here in Washington, which was headquarters for all the action,” Jamie Raskin, a Democratic congressman from Maryland and currently the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, told HuffPost. “It may as well be a stop on the tour buses because that’s where all the foreign government lobbyists and officials went in order to pay tribute.”
House Republicans, however, have shown no interest in bringing up the out-in-the-open selling of access Trump did as the sitting president. Dozens of them, in fact, helped legitimize Trump International Hotel’s existence and improved its cash flow by spending thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars of their donors’ cash there.
West Virginia’s Alex Mooney spent a total of $959 at the hotel, according to a HuffPost analysis of Federal Election Commission filings. Pennsylvania’s Bill Shuster, who lost his seat in the 2018 midterms in which Democrats gained 40 and control of the chamber, spent $28,722 there. Indiana’s Greg Pence, brother of the former vice president, spent $44,259. And the National Republican Congressional Committee, under the control of House GOP leadership, spent $80,985.
In all, Republican candidates, super PACs and committees spent a total of $2.7 million at Trump’s D.C. hotel ― with any and all profit flowing directly to Trump.
“We know that throughout Trump’s presidency, entities with ties to foreign governments purposefully patronized his businesses, enriching him while trying, and often succeeding, to curry favor with his administration,” said Robert Maguire, a researcher with the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “And Republicans didn’t just turn a blind eye. They joined in, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars at his properties from their party committees, campaigns and outside groups while also dismissing any attempt to investigate Trump as politically motivated.”
Make The Presidency Profitable Again
Former President Donald Trump waves to the crowd during a campaign rally on Sept. 25, 2023, in Summerville, South Carolina. The former president has a strong lead in the polls over his Republican challengers and does not plan to participate in Wednesday's Republican presidential debate.
Trump’s campaign staff did not respond to HuffPost’s queries about his choice to enrich himself from businesses and foreign governments seeking favors from his administration ― even as he calls Biden “the most corrupt” president in U.S. history.
His company, the Trump Organization, has said it sent profits earned from foreign entities to the U.S. Treasury during his time as president.
However, the company ― which a New York state judge this week found had committed repeated fraud in a ruling in a $250 million lawsuit by the state attorney general and earlier this year saw its chief financial officer go to prison for tax fraud ― has refused to detail how it made those calculations.
A hotel has considerable fixed costs ― salaries of cleaning staff, for example, and heating and air conditioning ― which must be paid regardless of whether the hotel is completely full or half empty. Meaning that every room filled by a guest and every drink purchased at the bar contributed to Trump’s personal bottom line.
Despite this, the vast majority of Republicans refused to criticize Trump for openly using his position to benefit himself ― behavior that, had it been done by a federal employee rather than the president, might have led to criminal charges. Federal law exempts both the president and vice president from ethics rules.
Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, who chairs one of the three House committees handling the impeachment inquiry of Biden, nevertheless continues to defend Trump’s choice to accept millions of dollars from interest groups through his properties.
“President Trump didn’t take a salary. President Trump did so many good things for the country, did more of what he said he would do as president than any president, certainly in my lifetime,” said Jordan, who spent $5,977 of his donors’ money at the hotel. “I thought he was a great president, and I hope he’s president again.”
From the day Trump took office, the 12-story “Old Post Office” structure he had leased several years earlier became the gathering spot for those who worked in his administration and those who sought to influence the policies and spending authority of that same administration. On any given night, lobbyists could be sure to find White House officials and staff in the various executive agencies at the bar in the massive, high-ceiling lobby. The BLT Steakhouse on the mezzanine level became a favored meeting spot for work meals.
Guest rooms ― which on occasion started at many hundreds of dollars a night, with suites going for as much as $10,000 a night ― were patronized by corporate officials and foreign delegations, some of which would book extended stays totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And because Trump refused to divest himself of any of his properties upon winning the election or placing all his personal interests in a blind trust ― as previous presidents had done to avoid conflicts of interest ― every dollar of income generated at the property flowed directly to the trust that he controlled and benefited from. And rather than downplay his personal businesses, Trump frequently touted the hotel and his other properties, encouraging people to frequent them.
That encouragement apparently worked, according to CREW’s analyses.
The government of Kuwait staged celebrations for its National Day at the D.C. hotel in 2017, 2018 and 2019, with the final one drawing three Cabinet officials as well as top aide Kellyanne Conway.
Romania also made the hotel a go-to venue, hosting a reception for its defense minister and, on a separate occasion, putting up its prime minister there during a White House visit.
Tax documents eventually obtained by House Democrats following a successful lawsuit ― Trump, breaking decades of precedent, refused to release his tax returns voluntarily ― showed that China, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates together spent more than $750,000 at the D.C. hotel as they tried to advance their own national interests.
“It was precisely what the founders of the country opposed and wanted to prevent,” Raskin said. “They did not want the foreign policy of the United States compromised by people getting financially entangled with the president, and, of course, that was Donald Trump’s business model.”
CREW, which meticulously tracked Trump’s melding of official business and personal enrichment, found that Trump personally made 547 visits to his properties during his four years, including 33 to his Pennsylvania Avenue hotel.
Daughter and top White House official Ivanka Trump visited Trump properties 78 times, while husband and fellow White House official Jared Kushner visited 55 times. Conway made 27 visits, while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made 23.
In this Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, accompanied by, from left, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Trump, Melania Trump, Tiffany Trump and Ivanka Trump, holds up a ribbon during the grand opening ceremony of the Trump International Hotel- Old Post Office, in Washington. Several experts in government contract law say that President-elect Trump will have to give up his stake in his prized Washington, D.C., hotel if he wants to be president.
In all, at least 346 executive branch officials made at least 993 visits to their boss’s properties while conducting government business.
The CREW analysis further found that, for lobbying groups, the visits to Trump properties were a smart investment: As many as 30 special interests received favorable consideration by Trump’s executive branch coinciding with their visits to Trump properties.
Shortly after the National Confectioners Association met at Trump’s golf resort in Doral, Florida, for example, the Food and Drug Administration proposed delaying stricter labeling for candy manufacturers.
Doral was also the site for meetings of the group representing payday lenders in 2018 and 2019. Just before the 2019 meeting, the Trump administration started the process of rescinding an Obama-era regulation cracking down on the industry, which attorneys general and consumer groups around the country regard as predatory lending. The rule was repealed the following year.
Trump further used his power to funnel taxpayer and campaign donor dollars to the Washington, D.C., hotel and other properties as often as possible. Many Republican National Committee gatherings during his tenure took place at Trump hotels and golf courses, as did fundraisers for both the Senate and House GOP committees.
When Trump traveled to Europe for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, he spent most nights not in London or France, where he had appearances, but in Doonbeg, Ireland, at his own golf resort, thereby ensuring that tens of thousands of dollars of Secret Service lodging expenses went to him.
Trump even went as far as trying to host the G7 conference of the world’s largest democratic economies at his money-losing golf resort in Doral, Florida.
“It’s not the best optics,” said Steve Duprey, a former member of the RNC, which spent over $1 million in donor contributions to host two separate quarterly meetings at Doral. “When staff goes there, lobbyists follow as sure as bees to honey…. Did it benefit his organization? Yes. Was it illegal? No. Was it unseemly? Yes.”
Trying To Make Biden Look As Bad As Trump
To Democrats and critics of Trump, Republican House members’ seeming obsession with impeaching Biden is easy to explain: They are trying to make him look guilty of everything Trump did in the open for four years.
“Republicans’ newfound zeal for investigating any possible whiff of financial impropriety stands in direct contrast to their years of outright stonewalling efforts to rein in the brazen profiteering by former President Trump and his family during his tenure in office,” Maguire said.
Republicans are accusing Biden of engineering the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor to protect Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that had hired his son as a consultant. In fact, Biden was helping carry out the consensus policy of the United States, the European Union and the World Bank by removing Viktor Shokin, who was widely seen as corrupt. His removal put Burisma more at risk of an investigation, thereby working against his son’s interest.
House leaders routinely accuse Biden of taking a seven-figure bribe ― even though their source for the allegation states that he does not believe the Ukrainian oligarch’s claim. Trump’s Justice Department knew of the allegation and did not find it credible enough to pursue an investigation.
They claim then-Vice President Biden was involved in Hunter Biden’s business dealings, despite the source for that claim’s explanation that although Joe Biden took calls from his son during Hunter Biden’s meetings with his business partners, the calls never discussed any actual business.
Republicans have even depicted the existence of holding companies created by Biden family members and their business associates as proof of nefarious activity ― even as Trump’s annual financial disclosure filings revealed his ownership of some 500 limited liability companies, some of them based overseas.
“This is a transparent effort to boost Donald Trump’s campaign by establishing a false moral equivalency,” Raskin wrote in a response to the Biden probes. “Republicans’ lust to move forward with an impeachment inquiry on the basis of this utterly failed investigation is a transparent effort to boost former President Trump’s reelection prospects and distract from the overwhelming evidence of his criminal and corrupt conduct during his term of office.”
Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.