Andres Oppenheimer

Trump has no reservations about officials using his hotels to curry favor

In October 2016, while still a presidential candidate, Donald Trump, with his family, prepared to cut a ribbon during the grand opening ceremony of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
In October 2016, while still a presidential candidate, Donald Trump, with his family, prepared to cut a ribbon during the grand opening ceremony of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. The Washington Post/Getty Images

When I read that former Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is facing corruption charges for having used her hotel to host the crews of Argentina’s state-run airline, I had to ask: “Isn’t that sort of what President Trump does all the time?

Argentine prosecutors say Fernandez de Kirchner’s Alto Calafate Hotel in southern Argentina signed several contracts with the Aerolineas Argentinas national airline during her term in office from 2007 to 2015. The airline’s crews spent 26,000 nights at the hotel, for which the airline paid nearly $800,000.

“First, they [the government] promoted the destination. Then they filled the flights, and then they booked tens of thousands of nights at the hotel to host the crews,” reported Argentina’s daily La Nacion, which broke the story this week.

Call me cynical, but I can’t help wondering whether that’s not similar to what the president does when he promotes his Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C., his Mar-a-Lago hotel and golf club in Palm Beach and his other properties.

Trump’s hotels have become a magnet for all kinds of people seeking influence within his administration. Mar-a-Lago, where Trump and his aides often spend their weekends, has doubled its membership fee to $200,000 since Trump took office.

Trump International Hotel in Washington is so coveted by foreign countries for their conventions, that some have moved events from other hotels to the property.

Before Trump’s election, Kuwait had made a “save the date” reservation to celebrate its 2017 national holiday at Washington’s Four Seasons Hotel. But after Trump’s election victory, Kuwait quickly moved the event to the Trump International Hotel, according to press reports that were confirmed by the Kuwaiti Embassy. Kuwait reportedly spent up to $60,000 for the event.

Last year, officials and lobbyists from Saudi Arabia spent $270,000 in rooms, catering and parking fees at the Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel, according to foreign lobbying disclosures first reported by the Daily Caller website.

U.S., state and local officials also are trying to curry favor with the Trump family by staying at the Trump International in D.C.

Last year, Maine Gov. Paul LePage and his staff spent at least $35,000 in state funds on trips to Washington D.C., where they stayed at the Trump International, according to a lawsuit filed by, among others, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) Washington, D.C., advocacy group.

The legal action claims that Trump violated the Constitution by using his position as president for personal profit.

Unlike previous wealthy U.S. presidents, Trump has not sold his properties or created a blind trust to completely separate himself from his businesses. He has turned over the Trump hotels’ day-to-day operations to sons Don Jr. and Eric, but he is in regular contact with them.

Trump shamelessly promotes his hotels by drawing armies of reporters to them, such as when he hosted Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, instead of at the U.S. government’s presidential retreat, Camp David.

Trump has said that, under U.S. law, “The president can’t have a conflict of interest.” The Trump Organization has pledged to donate its profits from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury, although that would not include indirect publicity gains.

Critics say that under U.S. Constitution’s domestic and foreign emoluments clauses, the U.S. president can only get income from his salary, and that Trump is profiting from his businesses.

When I asked CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz whether it’s fair to compare Trump with Argentina’s Fernandez de Kirchner, he told me that that continued ownership of his hotels, and his use of them for official functions “is enough to raise eyebrows.”

I agree. The courts will decide whether Trump has violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause, but the court of public opinion should definitely condemn him for violating his presidential duty to be a role model for public officials, and citizens in general.

Trump’s actions create a perception that he is using public office for private gain. In that, he’s no different from Argentina’s former president.

Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 8 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

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