President Trump promised a firewall between his business and his presidency, but he broke that promise and accumulated 3,403 conflicts of interest so far.
The conflicts include visits to Trump properties by foreign government officials, taxpayer spending at Trump businesses, and Trump’s own blatant promotions of the businesses. CREW has tracked around two conflicts of interest per day, but that is likely only the tip of the iceberg.
Let's talk about 3400 instances of trump taking money from foreign leaders in order to enrich himself. https://t.co/fcSr0CwN5B
— IMSiegfried (@IMSiegfried) October 27, 2020
As a candidate for president, Donald Trump used to promise cheering crowds at stop after stop on the campaign trail that if he won the election he would be too busy to play golf or visit his properties. “I love golf,” Trump told supporters in Portsmouth, N.H., in February 2016, “But if I were in the White House, I don’t think I’d ever see Turnberry again.
I don’t think I’d ever see Doral again — I own Doral in Miami. I don’t think I’d ever see any of the places that I have… I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off, make great deals.”
To the contrary, President Trump has found time to visit his properties hundreds of times while in office, with time left over to lavish them with praise in official remarks, and to reward his paying customers with privileged access to and positions in his administration.
For nearly four years now, President Trump has made it abundantly clear that any claim of separation from his business was a lie, and coupled with his unprecedented decision not to divest his business empire before entering office, this empty promise has led to some of the most egregious examples of presidential corruption and conflicts of interest ever raised by a modern president.
“President Trump has made it abundantly clear that any claim of separation from his business was a lie.”
Since day one, CREW has been tracking President Trump’s conflicts of interest, showing how the line between the Trump Organization and the Trump administration has blurred so much that it is unclear where President Trump’s public responsibilities end and his private financial interests begin.
Unlike any other modern president, Trump has forced the American people to ask if the decisions and policies his administration is implementing are because they’re the best policies for the nation, or because they personally benefit him — either by helping his businesses directly or the special interests spending money there.
The numbers are truly staggering. As of September 21, President Trump has racked up 3,403 conflicts of interest. The list reads like an instruction manual for how not to drain the swamp:
- President Trump has visited his businesses 503 times, and 303 of these visits have been made to golf courses. This year alone he has visited 7 properties 74 times in total. The days that he has spent visiting properties account for a third of his presidency;
- 338 individual executive branch officials have visited Trump properties 885 times. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have visited Trump properties more than any other executive branch officials besides the president — 39 and 36 times, respectively. Following them are Vice President Mike Pence, Former Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin;
- 141 individual Members of Congress have visited Trump properties 344 times. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham tops this list with 27 visits, followed by Sen. Rand Paul, and Reps. Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Kevin McCarthy. The majority of these visits (284) have been to the Trump Hotel in D.C.;
- 145 foreign officials from 75 governments have visited Trump properties. More Turkish officials have visited than representatives of any other country;
- 69 state officials from 34 states have visited Trump properties, including 18 governors. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida tops the list;
- In total, public officials from Congress, the executive branch, and foreign and state governments have made 2,014 visits to Trump properties;
- Conveniently located just blocks away from the White House, the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. is the most popular property for federal, state, and foreign government officials to visit. Public officials have visited the property 973 times. Mar-a-Lago is next with 385 visits, followed by Trump National Bedminster with 181 visits, Trump National Golf Club in Virginia with 138, and Trump National Golf Club West Palm Beach with 110 visits from public officials;
- The President has taken many opportunities to use his office for free advertising for his many properties. White House officials including Trump have used their platform to promote Trump businesses 426 times, often in their official capacities. Trump specifically has mentioned his properties in speeches and interviews 338 times;
- Special interest groups, political groups, and foreign governments have held a combined 231 events at Trump properties during Trump’s presidency. Special interests have hosted or sponsored 130 events at Trump properties during Trump’s presidency. Trump administration officials and Republican members of Congress often attend special-interest events at Trump properties, granting these interests invaluable access, often behind closed doors, in exchange for a large payment to President Trump’s businesses. Forty-eight administration officials, including 13 Cabinet members, have attended a special interest event at a Trump property, and 41 members of Congress have gone to one;
- Political groups have hosted 88 events at Trump properties since Trump took office. Whereas prior to his run for president, Trump businesses were never paid more than $100,000 by political groups in a single year, they have taken in millions of dollars in political spending each year since he ran. The president’s businesses have raked in $23.2 million from political groups since Trump announced his run for office in 2015 and $9.7 million since he took office. Political groups have paid $3.2 million to the Trump hotel in Washington, $2 million to the Trump National Doral, and $1.2 million to Mar-a-Lago. The top spenders are Trump’s own campaign, the RNC, and a joint fundraising entity that raises money to those two groups, which, together, have spent more than $20 million. None of these totals include untold amounts spent by dark money groups that generally don’t have to report such spending;
- Though many of Trump’s best customers are his own political groups and those in his immediate orbit, political spending at Trump properties is widespread. More than 200 conservative and Republican political groups have made a payment to one, and more than three dozen of those have paid more than $10,000. These giant payments to the president’s businesses have afforded groups that sponsor events at Trump properties access to high ranking officials. President Trump himself has attended 31 of them, and Vice President Pence has gone to another 15. Eight cabinet officials have attended 22 political events at the president’s properties, and 67 members of Congress have attended one or more;
- Foreign governments or foreign government-linked groups have hosted 13 events at the president’s hotels and resorts during the Trump presidency. These events have brought 67 foreign officials and 20 Trump administration officials to the president’s properties;
- Despite Trump’s promise that there would be a separation between the White House and Trump Organization during his administration, the president has continued to be involved with the Trump Organization. He has apparently retained the power to make decisions for his businesses while in office and has persistently given his paying customers privileged access and information. Meanwhile, the Trump Organization has sought to highlight its proximity to power as a marketing tool;
- While Trump swore against pursuing foreign deals while in office, 67 trademarks have been granted to the Trump Organization from foreign governments. China has granted 46 trademarks to Trump’s company, more than any country.
President Trump has used the office of the presidency to promote his businesses and grant wealthy paying customers personal access to the president, while American taxpayers foot the bill, paying well over $100 million to shuttle him to his properties, and his insistence on spending time there has resulted in at least a million dollars in taxpayer money being spent at his properties.
Meanwhile, regarding the two properties he mentioned in 2016 in Portsmouth — Turnberry and Doral — while making empty promises to supporters, not only has he spent time at both, but they have become the subject of some of the biggest self-dealing scandals of a presidency rife with corruption.
Some of these lowlights include:
- At the 2019 G-7 Summit in France, President Trump used official remarks to preview an announcement that his administration would hold the 2020 conference at his own Trump National Doral resort near Miami, likely bringing millions of dollars in foreign government spending to his resort. In his remarks, he praised his property’s “magnificent buildings” and “incredible conference rooms” in front of international leaders and press.
- In 2019, Eric Trump falsely claimed that when the federal government stays at Trump properties, the Trump Organization bills official stays at a deep discount. “If my father travels, they stay at our properties for free,” he said. “We charge them, like $50.” Records obtained by the Washington Post show that’s not true. In reality, the Trump Organization has billed the government $650 for a single room, tacked on fees, and charged the government for periods when Trump wasn’t present at his clubs. In total, the Trump Organization has taken in more than $1 million in Secret Service spending alone during Trump’s term.
- When Vice President Pence traveled to Ireland for meetings in Dublin, he stayed more almost two hundred miles away, at the president’s Doonbeg property. His chief of staff said Trump suggested the resort. The detour cost the government nearly $600,000 in travel expenses, and the Secret Service paid the Trump resort more than $15,000 for the stay.
- Trump pressured the U.S. ambassador to Britain to see if he could steer the British Open to the president’s Trump Turnberry golf resort in Scotland in 2017. The ambassador, Woody Johnson, followed up on the request by raising the idea with Scotland’s secretary of state.
- When the Philippine Embassy held its Independence Day celebration at the Trump hotel in Washington in 2018, the Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. said the choice of venue was “a statement, it’s a statement that we have a good relationship with this president.”
- In 2017, a brochure for the president’s Bedminster golf club used the possibility of an appearance by President Trump to sell the resort as a wedding venue. “If he is on-site for your big day, he will likely stop in & congratulate the happy couple,” the brochure said.
- The day after T-Mobile announced its planned merger with Sprint, for which it needed approval from the Trump administration, nine T-Mobile executives checked into the Trump hotel. The company spent $195,000 at the hotel, including on dozens of visits by company executives, while seeking the merger, which was approved.
- In 2017, a special interest group, the American Dental Association, successfully sought access to the president through a member of one of his clubs. A Mar-a-Lago guest passed the president a note he had written on behalf of the group on Mar-a-Lago stationary. The president referred it directly to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
- That same year, three other Mar-a-Lago club members were so involved at Veterans Affairs that VA officials gave them a nickname — “the Mar-a-Lago Crowd.”
- Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to New York City drove a spike in quarterly profits at the Trump hotel in Manhattan during 2018, according to the hotel’s manager. Though the crown prince himself didn’t stay there, his entourage did, and they spent enough to put the hotel in the black.
- In the days before the United State’s assassination of General Qassem Soleimani of Iran Trump hinted to guests at Mar-a-Lago that they should watch out for something “big” coming “soon.” Trump later described the minute-by-minute details of the strike to donors at Mar-a-Lago.
- In 2017, the Trump administration scrapped a bipartisan plan to relocate the FBI headquarters to the DC suburbs. The current FBI building is blocks away from the president’s D.C. hotel, and relocating it might have allowed a competitor hotel to move in. Indeed, hotel developers had bid on the site. President Trump was personally involved in a meeting about the building location just weeks before the announcement that it wouldn’t be relocated.
The numbers in this report are the culmination of nearly four years of work, and they paint a damning picture of a president who seems corruptly fixated on the personal financial benefits he might derive from his time in office.
They show him to be willing to use the highest, most powerful office in the country to promote his businesses, while special interest groups, foreign governments, and wealthy donors enrich him personally through lavish events held at his luxury properties in the hopes of currying favor with him and his administration.
“The numbers in this report are the culmination of nearly four years of work, and they paint a damning picture of a president who seems corruptly fixated on the personal financial benefits he might derive from his time in office.”
Spending time and money at Trump properties
By frequently visiting the properties that he still owns and profits from as President, Trump has established his hotels and resorts as centers of power and influence. Members of his administration and Republican members of Congress have followed the president’s lead and brought their own business, including those who might seek to influence the government, to Trump’s properties. Each time they go, the president profits.
President Trump has visited his hotels, resorts, and golf courses 503 times as President, and 14 of his properties in total. Of these visits, 303 have been made to golf courses. This year alone, he has visited 7 properties 74 times in total. The days that he has spent visiting properties account for a third of his presidency.
President Trump hasn’t just vacationed at his properties, he’s turned them into extensions of his White House by hosting foreign dignitaries, holding press conferences, signing executive orders, and meeting with cabinet officials at them. All of these official occurrences have emphasized their proximity to power, boosting their status to guests and members.
President Trump is far from the only executive branch official to patronize Trump properties — 334 administration officials have visited Trump properties 885 times. First family members and senior advisors Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have visited Trump properties more than any other executive branch officials with 39 and 36 visits, respectively. Following them are Vice President Mike Pence with 33 visits, former Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway with 27 visits, and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin with 23.
Members of Congress similarly patronize the President’s properties. One hundred forty-one individual Senators and Representatives have visited Trump properties 344 times, with Senator Lindsey Graham topping the list with 27 visits, followed by Rand Paul, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Kevin McCarthy. The vast majority of these congressional visits, 284 to be exact, have been to the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.
American government officials aren’t alone in patronizing Trump businesses — 145 foreign officials from 75 governments have visited Trump properties. The country that has sent the most officials to Trump properties has been Turkey. On some occasions, Trump has personally brought them there. At Trump’s vaunted “Winter White House,” Mar-a-Lago, he has hosted Chinese President Xi Jingping, then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and most recently the far-right President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro along with several other Brazilian officials. According to The Grifter’s Club, a recent book by four Miami Herald reporters, the Xi visit was an “unparalleled money maker” for Mar-a-Lago — so much so that it was “the most successful promotional event in the club’s history.”
Trump’s frequent visits have resulted in hundreds and thousands of dollars in Secret Service protection and travel costs, which are ultimately paid by taxpayers. The cost to the Secret Service early in President Trump’s presidency was so high that the agency could no longer afford the overtime for agents protecting him. More than 1,000 agents hit caps for overtime payments, and agents started leaving the service as a result of the sometimes uncompensated overwork and frequent travel to Trump’s businesses.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s businesses were also charging the Secret Service for rooms and other services at elevated rates, despite their claims to the contrary. Trump Organization Executive Vice President Eric Trump told Yahoo Finance that by staying at Trump Organization properties, the government would save a “fortune,” but spending documents showed this was likely not true. The Trump Organization has charged multiple government entities hundreds of thousands of dollars since Trump took office, running up a taxpayer-funded tab of more than $1.1 million in Secret Service payments.
For Trump’s first trip to Mar-a-Lago as President in January 2017, the Secret Service reserved several rooms totaling $10,660 for the whole weekend. At Trump’s Bedminster resort the Secret Service was forced to rent a cottage that costs $17,000 per month. Other payments are even more extraordinary. Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland charged the Secret Service an unexplained “furniture removal fee” of $1,300. The Secret Service has even paid for rooms at Mar-a-Lago when Trump isn’t there. In 2017 after a Mar-a-Lago staff member told the Secret Service that the resort was booked up, the agency later booked rooms for two weeks at a time to ensure that wouldn’t happen again.
Vice President Mike Pence’s visits to Trump properties have also cost taxpayers and benefited Trump. When the VP visited Las Vegas in 2017 for a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting, the Secret Service spent more than $20,000 at the Trump hotel. On a 2019 trip to Ireland, Pence stayed at Trump’s Doonbeg resort even though he had to fly to meetings on the other side of the country — at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $600,000.
The Secret Service isn’t the only agency spending taxpayer funds at Trump Organization properties. The Department of Homeland Security spent more than $1,600 on a dinner with “foreign government representatives” at the Trump Hotel. According to Politico, as of last September the Department of Defense had spent almost $200,000 at Turnberry since Trump’s inauguration in 2017, plus almost $700 at Doral in 2018, and almost $1,500 for hotel rooms at Mar-a-Lago during one weekend in February of 2017.
In April 2017, when the State Department tried to get the Trump Organization to waive the costs of a meeting room it needed for press and official meetings during one of Trump’s visits to Mar-a-Lago, the Trump Organization refused, and State only narrowly avoided a violation of contracting rules limiting government expenditures to under $3,500. The next year, President Trump signed a law that lifted that government cap on “micro-purchases” from $3,500 to $10,000, and the State Department created a special credit card just for Mar-a-Lago visits.
All of this spending puts taxpayer money into Trump’s pocket. According to his personal financial disclosure, Trump’s businesses took in at least $446 million last year, more than 1,000 times more than the presidential salary that he’s made a show of donating. And Trump isn’t the only one who profits off of taxpayer dollars. Ivanka Trump’s personal financial disclosure revealed that her stake in the Trump Hotel in D.C. generated $4 million in revenue.
Trump’s properties are more than just extensions of the White House. Since his election in 2016, business has been boosted by administration officials and allies using Trump’s properties for weddings, parties, and other celebrations. For New Year’s Eve, Dan Scavino, Mike Pompeo, Lindsey Graham, and several others including Trump and Ivanka stayed at Mar-a-Lago to celebrate. Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller married another White House official at the Washington, D.C. Trump Hotel, with at least 20 administration officials and members of Congress in attendance including Trump, Pence, Mulvaney, and others. When Sarah Huckabee Sanders left the White House last summer she had a massive going away party at the Trump Hotel with almost 40 government guests.
While the coronavirus pandemic slowed down the hospitality industry, some officials continued to visit Trump properties even during the outbreak’s surge in April and May. When the virus first struck and cities all over the country ordered residents to “shelter at home,” Jared and Ivanka traveled to Bedminster, New Jersey to spend the Passover holiday at Trump’s golf club. This was after Ivanka posted a video online urging Americans to follow federal guidelines and stay at home. Even President Trump took a break from his properties — the coronavirus stopped him from visiting them for almost three months.
In fact, the only thing that has temporarily stopped President Trump from routinely visiting his properties as president are two government shutdowns and a global pandemic. While there are still tens of thousands of new cases of the virus each day all over the country, Trump has picked back up and has visited one of his golf courses almost every weekend since late May.
There have even been large group gatherings at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. amidst Mayor Muriel Bowser’s guidelines banning large events and requiring everyone to wear a mask. On July 20 the RNC and Trump Victory held a joint fundraiser where guests included Mark Meadows, Lindsey Graham, and Trump. Photos from the event show very few people wearing masks. On July 27 and 28, over 20 members of Congress, executive branch officials, and even one state senator spoke at or attended The Falkirk Center’s “Freedom Summit” at the Trump Hotel. In photos from the event on social media, there is not a single mask in sight. Ignoring the Mayor’s safety guidelines likely put the safety of attendees and hospitality workers at risk.
Lavish events held at Trump properties
President Trump’s decision to retain his businesses interests while in office gave special interests, foreign governments, and political groups something they have never had before: a way to ingratiate themselves with the president and his administration by pumping cash into his bank account. These groups haven’t wasted the opportunity. They’ve injected millions of dollars into his businesses in five- and six-figure increments by hosting and sponsoring extravagant events at his hotels and resorts while seeking influence with his administration.
Senior administration members have frequently attended events at Trump properties to address groups hosting events there, rewarding these special interest groups’ payments to their boss through patronage of his businesses.
According to CREW’s tracking, during the Trump presidency, special interests have hosted or sponsored 130 events at Trump properties, political groups have hosted an additional 88 events, and foreign governments or foreign government-linked groups have hosted 13 events at the president’s hotels and resorts. The number of known events are just a proxy for what are certainly much bigger numbers. And while there is no way to track how much these groups have spent overall, the spending has almost certainly resulted in millions of dollars in income for President Trump’s businesses.
Special Interest Groups
Since President Trump took office, special interests have hosted or sponsored 130 events at Trump properties while seeking to influence the government. The hosts include some of the largest interest groups in the country. Top trade associations representing payday lenders, energy companies, orthodontists, paper product manufacturers, candy makers, and funeral directors all hosted events, and so has the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Companies from many of the biggest, and in some cases, most abusive industries in the country have also hosted or sponsored events, including private prisons, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and tax preparation software.
Prior to Trump’s election, private prison contractor GEO Group had typically held its annual conference nearby its Boca Raton headquarters. During Trump’s first year in office, however, the group’s executives decided to try out a venue near Miami, the Trump Doral resort.
The booking was the least they could do. The Trump Justice Department threw private prison companies a lifeline early in 2017, reversing the Obama administration’s plan to phase them out. Instead, private prison spending has increased during the Trump administration, and since then GEO Group has sponsored another event at the president’s Doral resort.
Other special interests have appeared to reap rewards from the Trump administration after patronizing the president’s businesses. Bankers, title insurers, vaping advocates, railroad builders, and others have also benefited from a favorable policy or rule change from the Trump administration after hosting an event at a Trump property. Just two weeks after the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute held a conference at Trump’s Doral resort, the Trump administration came out in favor of an environmental policy they’d lobbied in favor of for years. The group’s tax return for that year showed it paid the president’s business more than $700,000 for the event.
By far the most popular event venue for special interests is the Trump hotel in Washington. 61 of these events took place there. This is driven in-part by “fly-in” visits by special interests on lobbying trips to Washington. It’s common for both DC-based groups and out-of-towners to meet with officials while staying at or hosting an event at the hotel.
Other groups have gotten an Oval Office meeting. Five groups including the American Legislative Exchange Council and the American Petroleum Institute have had meetings at the White House concurrent with a Trump hotel event. API went to the White House on the second day of a two-day event at the Trump hotel to discuss NAFTA and tariff issues.
It’s also common for Trump administration officials and Republican members of Congress to attend special-interest events at Trump properties, granting these interests valuable access, often behind closed doors, which also result in a large payment to President Trump. Forty-eight administration officials, including 13 Cabinet members, have attended a special interest event at a Trump property, and 41 members of Congress have gone to one. On two occasions, Cabinet members have included kind words for the choice of event venue in their remarks, all while their boss reaps a financial benefit from the event.
Trump’s presidency has turned his properties into fundraising hotspots for the Republican Party. Whereas prior to his run for president, Trump businesses were never paid more than $100,000 by political groups in a single year, they have taken in millions of dollars in political spending each year since he ran.
Political groups, like special interest groups, are often rewarded for their patronage with access to the president and senior Trump officials at their events. Advertising these appearances helps garner interest, which makes for better attended — and more expensive — events, which in turn means more money for Trump. Unlike any other modern president, when wealthy donors come to fundraisers at Trump properties, they aren’t just benefiting the political campaigns of the president and his allies, they are enriching the president personally.
Political groups have held 88 events at Trump properties since the President took office. Forty-five of these have taken place at the Trump hotel in Washington, 6 have taken place at Trump National Doral, and 17 have taken place at Mar-a-Lago. Unsurprisingly, the president’s political operation is his own best customer. The Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, and a third committee, Trump Victory, which raises money for those two groups, have held a combined 23 events at Trump properties. A Trump campaign-approved super PAC, America First Action, has hosted eight more, and a political group led by Vice President Mike Pence has held three.
At these events, President Trump often gives wealthy donors an invaluable resource: Intimate face-time with him to discuss pet issues. We know this because in the run-up to President Trump’s impeachment, recordings were released by Lev Parnas’ lawyer, showing exactly what was discussed at an America First Action event at the Trump hotel. In the recording, Trump has long conversations with individual donors about their business and other interests.
Other Republican Party political committees have followed suit. The National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee, two of the party’s main fundraising vehicles, have hosted a combined six events at Trump properties. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with a similar mission, which is close to Senate leadership, has hosted an additional two events. The Republican Governors Association and Republican Attorneys General Association, which seek to win state races for Republicans nationwide, have held two events apiece.
Driven by the five- and six-figure costs of these events, the president’s businesses have raked in $23.2 million from political groups since Trump announced his run for office in 2015 and $9.7 million since he took office. Political groups have paid $3.2 million to the Trump hotel in Washington, $2 million to the Trump National Doral, and $1.2 million to Mar-a-Lago. The top spenders are Trump’s own campaign, the RNC, and a joint entity that raises money to those two groups, which, together, have spent more than $20 million. The pro-Trump super PAC America First Action has spent another $600,000 at Trump businesses, and Vice President Pence’s political committee has spent $237,000 there.
Though many of the top spenders are Trump’s own political groups and those in his immediate orbit, political spending at Trump properties is widespread. More than two hundred political groups have made a payment to at least one Trump property, and more than three dozen of those have paid more than $10,000. None of these totals include untold sums spent by dark money groups that generally don’t have to report such spending.
These giant payments to the president’s businesses have afforded groups that sponsor events at Trump properties access to Trump and other high ranking government officials. President Trump himself has attended 31 of them, and Vice President Pence has gone to another 15. Eight cabinet officials have attended 22 political events at the president’s properties, and 67 members of Congress have attended one or more.
While the coronavirus pandemic caused many Trump properties to close temporarily, they have since reopened and resumed hosting — and billing — political and special interest groups, convening officials, donors, and lobbyists for eight events since March. During the Republican National Convention, Trump Victory hosted a three-day event at the Trump hotel, drawing attendance from 10 administration officials, including at least five cabinet officials and President Trump himself.
Foreign governments and foreign government-linked groups have held 13 events at Trump properties during his presidency. Payments for these events violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which says the president isn’t allowed to accept presents, profits, gains, or advantages from foreign countries.
The Philippine and Kuwaiti embassies have held Independence Day celebrations at the Trump hotel in Washington, and the Romanian consulate in Chicago celebrated Romania’s National Day at the Trump hotel in Chicago. Between Trump’s election and inauguration, the embassies of Bahrain and Azerbaijan both held events at the president’s DC hotel.
During the Phillippine embassy’s event, the country’s ambassador to the U.S. linked his country’s Trump hotel patronage to the presidency. He said the choice of venue was “a statement, it’s a statement that we have a good relationship with this president.”
Both the Kuwaiti embassy and the Romanian consulate had previously held the same annual event somewhere else in previous years before Trump was president. Kuwait became a repeat customer, booking the Trump hotel for its National Day celebrating in 2017, 2018, and 2019. They were rewarded for their loyalty with access to top Trump officials. Three Trump Cabinet members attended their 2019 event, and so did Kellyanne Conway. There, they mingled with representatives from seven different governments.
Foreign government events often bring foreign officials from both the host country and other countries to the president’s properties in droves. Sixty-seven foreign officials attended a foreign government’s event at a Trump property, boosting the foreign money flowing to the president through his businesses.
An annual conference on Turkish relations took place at the Trump hotel in Washington in 2017 and 2019. The events have brought at least 15 Turkish government officials to the hotel as both guests and speakers. The Turkish ambassador and several Turkish ministers addressed attendees at the 2019 event, which was sponsored in part by a Turkish government office. Another sponsor was Turkish Airlines, which the Turkish government owns a large part of. Turkish Airlines hosted two other events at Trump properties during the Trump administration, raising additional emoluments concerns.
Official promotion of Trump’s private businesses
Trump’s resorts, hotels, and golf courses are his pride and joy, which may be why he spends so much time publicly touting his eponymous properties. In the presidency, Trump has found a chance to advertise his businesses from the world’s biggest platform. He’s seized the opportunity, lavishing his businesses with praise, even in the course of making official remarks. The president has mentioned or referred to his businesses 334 times while in office.
Trump has relentlessly praised his properties during speeches, press conferences, and any other opportunity he can get. Trump hasn’t talked about any other property as much as he’s spoken about the “fabled & beautiful” Trump Tower. Trump similarly loves to brag about Mar-a-Lago and his other properties. Recently he called his 40 Wall Street tower a “great building” and exclaimed “I wonder who built this beautiful place” while speaking at the D.C. hotel. Even when he’s denying that he uses his office to promote his businesses, he showers his “tremendous,” “magnificent,” and “incredible” resorts with praise.
Other White House officials have also used their platform to dote on their boss’s properties. White House officials other than Trump have promoted his properties on 92 occasions. The officials who’ve boosted them the most are former Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvanley, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and Deputy Principal Press Secretary Hogan Gidley.
In an interview on CNN late last year, Kellyanne Conway dodged questions about the possible selling of the DC hotel by showering the property with compliments: “It’s a great hotel. Have you been there? The food is delicious, the hotel is great, it has proximity to many places,” Conway exclaimed. Andrew Giuliani, a Public Liaison Assistant at the White house and the son of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani recently took to Twitter to call Trump’s Ferry Point Golf Course “one of the greatest courses in the USA.” When the White House announced Trump National Doral as the location for the 2020 G7 summit, then-Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney spent an entire press conference defending the property’s qualifications, calling it “the best physical facility for [the G7],” and a “perfect” location, and described Doral’s many amenities. White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley has promoted several properties and has referred to aspects of Trump Tower and Turnberry as “iconic.”
Trump even advocates for his properties behind closed doors. Various anonymous White House officials have said that Trump pushes for official events to be held at his properties. One official told the Washington Post that “His knee-jerk, every single time, was to do things at his own properties.” Another even said that Trump thinks that Americans expect him to visit his properties. Despite swearing to stay away from his business interests during his presidency, “The president argued repeatedly that the people knew who they elected when they picked him and that his businesses were central to his image.”
Trump made this desire public last summer at the G7 summit in France where he publicly advocated for next year’s summit to be held at Trump National Doral. While Trump claimed that the Secret Service preferred Doral to the other contenders, records obtained by CREW later revealed that the Secret Service said no such thing and that Doral was added as a last minute option, meaning that Trump lied in order to manipulate the international event for his own benefit. Trump similarly stated that the Secret Service influenced him to stay at his Las Vegas hotel during a campaign to the West Coast. This claim was later called into question by a records request from CREW.
Conflicts (of interest) abroad
Trump Organization Executive Vice President Eric Trump has said that after Trump’s time in office, his company will “launch a major expansion” that will focus in part on business “abroad.” It seems like this “major expansion” has started early. Instead of waiting, Trump’s sons have been actively pursuing foreign business and are using their family’s newfound political power to do so, despite a pledge from Trump that his company wouldn’t pursue foreign deals during his presidency.
At times, their denials that they’re pursuing foreign business has almost been comical. In mid-October of 2019, Eric Trump told Fox News host Laura Ingraham, “When my father became commander in chief of this country, we got out of all international business.” Barely two weeks later, an official Trump Organization account tweeted, “Thrilled to announce that we have granted [sic] planning permission to expand the incredible @TrumpDoonbeg!” golf resort in Ireland. The tweet explained that the updates — which had to be approved by local Irish officials — would include “a new ballroom, pool, spa, leisure facilities, 235 additional resort rooms, gate house and much more.”
One way that the Trump Organization has been expanding is through foreign trademarks. These trademarks give the company access to foreign markets and ultimately a head start in pursuing the international expansion that will inevitably follow the Trump presidency. These deals are not only beneficial for Trump. By granting immensely valuable trademarks to Trump’s companies, foreign governments can buy their way into the good graces of the President of the United States in the way he likes best: by boosting his business interests.
In Trump’s first term as President, the Trump Organization received 66 foreign trademarks. While the vast majority of these trademarks are from China, Trump companies have also received approval for trademarks in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Peru, the Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, the UAE, and the European Union.
The most recent of these trademarks is from Argentina. The Trump family company has received three trademarks from the country in the past year that cover areas like club services, recreation facilities, real estate, and construction, hinting that the Trump Organization may be pursuing a development in Argentina. Trump may also have altered U.S. foreign policy to receive them: The first two trademarks happened to coincide with administration actions on trade policy in Argentina.
Ivanka Trump has similarly benefitted from her father’s government position to expand her brand abroad. In 2018 Ivanka shut down her clothing company amid ethics concerns to focus on her government work. In January 2019, however, the company received approval for a trademark in Canada for handbags, footwear, and other clothing items, despite the business being shut down. This is not the first trademark that she has received since the shutdown of her brand — in October 2018 she received approval for 16 trademarks from the Chinese government.
All of this foreign business can’t be done without traveling. Trump’s adult children have taken international trips for Trump Organization business. In the past few years, Don Jr. has paid special attention to Indonesia, where the company MNC Group is building two Trump-branded projects. This project is rife with international conflicts of interest. First of all, MNC Group is led by Hary Tanoesoedibjo, a long time business partner and friend of President Trump. Tanoesoedibjo has introduced Trump to several high profile Indonesian officials and even attended festivities for Trump’s inauguration in 2017.
Tanoesoedibjo’s daughter also happens to be an Indonesian government official, tying Trump directly to a foreign government. Last October, Angela Tanoesoedibjo was appointed to serve as the Deputy Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy in Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s cabinet. Since Tanoesoedibjo’s position gives her power over tourism in the country, she could potentially make decisions that affect her father’s business, including the two Trump projects.
Last summer Don Jr. traveled to Jakarta to attend a pre-launch event for the two Indonesian developments where several government officials were in attendance, including Angela. The presence of so many officials at an event meant to celebrate a Trump-branded resort raises suspicions. Many may have attended to secure some face time with the son of the President of the United States and to show their support for the President’s business endeavors.
To add to the corruption, in September 2018 MNC Group partnered with a construction company that is partially owned by both the Saudi Arabian and South Korean governments to build the Trump branded aspects of one of the resorts. This happened right before American journalist Jamal Kashoggi disappeared at the hands of Saudi officials in Turkey, raising questions about whether Trump’s reluctance to hold the Saudi government accountable could have something to do with his business relationship with the country.
These international business trips incur massive Secret Service costs that are ultimately paid by taxpayers. The Secret Service has always been authorized to protect the President’s family but it creates an ethical quandary when the purpose of the trips is to boost Trump’s bottom line. As of this April the Trump family had taken an average of 12 times more trips per year requiring Secret Service protection than the Obamas.
In early 2018 for example, Don Jr. visited India for a week-long business trip to sell Trump-branded condominiums that cost taxpayers almost $100,000 in Secret Service fees. During the trip he stayed in a “variety of luxury hotels,” hosted “champagne dinners” and even met directly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Don Jr. and other Trump Organization executives even promised early buyers of the condos an exclusive incentive — access to Trump’s son at a private luxury reception in New York.
The spending doesn’t stop there. Shortly after their father’s inauguration, Don Jr. and Eric Trump traveled to Dubai to open a Trump-branded golf course, costing $200,000 in Secret Service fees. That same month the brothers traveled to the Dominican Republic to relaunch a failed Trump-branded resort project, costing $20,000 in government funds. Eric Trump has visited Uruguay twice during his father’s first term, trips that cost taxpayers $97,830 in 2017 and $80,786 in 2019.
Not all of this travel includes Trump Organization business. In August 2019, Don Jr. visited Mongolia to hunt endangered sheep with an RNC donor, costing taxpayers $76,859.36, more than $60,000 in excess of what the Secret Service originally reported. After the hunting excursion Trump met with the Mongolian President and was retroactively granted a permit to hunt the sheep he had already killed.
Blurred lines between White House and Trump Organization
Days before President-elect Trump took office, he committed the original sin of his presidency, announcing that he would retain his business interests while in office. At the same time, he announced a series of woefully inadequate practices related to his business that would supposedly guard against conflicts of interest. Among them was an assurance that there would be maintained a wall of separation between the Trump Organization and the Trump presidency.
That was a lie. Trump has not fully separated himself from the day-to-day operation of his business, nor has he, or the Trump Organization, enforced a separation between his businesses and the White House.
“At every turn, Trump has sought to advance his business interests from the White House. CREW has identified two dozen administration actions and policies that may benefit the Trump Organization.”
At every turn, Trump has sought to advance his business interests from the White House. CREW has identified two dozen administration actions and policies that may benefit the Trump Organization. Perhaps most galling was his attempt to bring the G-7 Summit to his financially troubled Doral resort. Behind closed doors, the president has pressured those in his administration to do the same. In 2018, Trump asked America’s ambassador to the United Kingdom to urge the British government to move the UK Open to the Trump Turnberry golf course in Scotland.
The president is also known to check in on his properties. According to the Wall Street Journal, President Trump regularly quizzes Trump Organization employees when he visits his properties on how the business is being run in his absence. In one instance, a year after taking office, President Trump walked into the kitchen at Mar-a-Lago to find it filthy. He flew into a rage and almost fired the head chef and the general manager, saying that employees couldn’t get lazy just because he wasn’t around as much anymore, according to the book The Grifters’ Club. He’s also brought up his properties in private exchanges with both U.S. and foreign officials.
Trump even appears to have retained and exercised the authority to make business decisions for the Trump Organization while serving as president. In October 2019, Eric Trump told the Wall Street Journal that the Trump Organization would be open to selling the Trump hotel in Washington. But last month, the president appeared to take it off the market during an interview with the New York Post inside the Oval Office. “I was thinking about it,” he told the newspaper, but, he said, “I like it. It does well.”
He’s also set Trump Organization policies for his golf clubs. The president and Ivanka Trump reportedly proposed a discount for White House officials at the Trump Bedminster golf club, and the club implemented the policy. Former White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney boasted to a special interest group that the president offered him lifetime privileges at Trump resorts around the world when Trump called to tell him he was being replaced by Mark Meadows.
The Trump Organization hasn’t shown any more restraint. It has embraced its proximity to power, advertising its status as the president’s business to sell hotel rooms and tee times. On a few occasions, it has literally advertised it. In 2017, a brochure for the president’s Bedminster golf club used the possibility of an appearance by President Trump to sell the resort as a wedding venue. “If he is on-site for your big day, he will likely stop in & congratulate the happy couple,” the brochure said.
A spokesperson for the club told the New York Times that the brochure was discontinued. But whatever lesson that may have been learned was quickly forgotten. A year later, the Trump Organization ordered golf tees with the presidential seal emblazoned on them in apparent violation of federal law.
Just like President Trump has been involved in running his company from the Oval Office, his sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr., have been involved with the presidency while running the Trump Organization as its executive vice presidents. This conflation creates the possibility that they may be influencing federal policy decisions to benefit the Trump Organization or other wealthy associates of the Trump family.
Donald Trump Jr. in particular has appeared to exercise inappropriate influence within the executive branch. Within months of Trump taking office, he had reportedly asked a hunting companion of his if he wanted to serve in an Interior Department position, and the West Wing had reportedly directed National Security Council officials to meet with other friends of his. Earlier this year, he personally lobbied his father against federal approval of an Alaskan mine.
The president’s sons have also frequently been present at official government events without explanation. Both sons were in attendance when President Trump announced his selection of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, where Senator Orrin Hatch congratulated them on a “great pick.” In August, Eric Trump was in the room while the president briefed FEMA on Hurricane Sally at the agency’s headquarters. On social media, the president’s sons have sought to tie the Trump Organization to the White House. During President Trump’s impeachment inquiry, Eric Trump used the hearings to try to sell Trump wine.
Shortly before Trump took office, his Mar-a-Lago club doubled its initiation fee. CREW and others raised concerns that the club was selling its proximity to power. If that’s what was being sold, members were getting the deal of a lifetime. Since then, Trump has appointed eight current or former members of his clubs to administration positions and treated other members as informal advisers, seeking their input on official questions and giving them sneak previews of upcoming administration actions. At Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey he recently promised club members a “show” before signing four executive orders at the club. Members of Trump’s Florida clubs were invited aboard Air Force One.
President Trump, who reportedly “know[s] all the names on his Mar-a-Lago membership roll,” has instructed White House staff to give his members “listening time” when he cannot make himself available to them. The president’s preferential treatment for his dues-paying customers has led special interests to try to access him through them. Last year, the toy industry sought to avoid tariffs by asking Mar-a-Lago member Isaac Perlmutter to make their case to the president.
One year before that, Perlmutter was part of a group of three Mar-a-Lago members who inserted themselves into the top rungs of the Department of Veterans Affairs’s decision-making apparatus, issuing de facto orders to high-ranking VA officials, reviewing contracts and budgets, and weighing in on personnel decisions. None of the three men had any government or military experience.
In 2017, another Mar-a-Lago member passed the president a note he had written on behalf of the American Dental Association on Mar-a-Lago stationary. The president referred the letter — which was addressed “Dear King” — directly to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Over the summer, Eric Trump told the Wall Street Journal that the president may return to the Trump Organization after he leaves office. It will be like he never left.
Trump ran for President promising to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. The Trump administration, he argued, would cater to the needs of working-class Americans instead of those of the wealthiest elites. Instead, Trump has used the presidency for his own personal benefit, using his immense power to bring business to the properties that he still profits from as President.
While previous presidents have taken every possible measure to eliminate conflicts of interest before entering office, President Trump made the unprecedented decision to retain his business interests. This has opened the door for corporate lobbyists, foreign governments, and others to influence public policy by funneling money into the hotels, resorts, and golf courses that he still profits from as President. Meanwhile, his allies in Congress have embraced this new normal, rather than fulfilling their constitutional duty and providing a check on the out-of-control conflicts of interest that have become the defining characteristic of the Trump presidency.
CREW has tracked more than 3,400 conflicts of interest, but that number is still growing. And it is likely just the tip of the iceberg.