Trump’s Interests vs. America’s, Vancouver Edition

By Jeremy Venook

As the first (and, so far, only) Trump-branded property to open since the election, the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver has prompted significant scrutiny. When it opened just five days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, ethics experts questioned whether the property presented an opportunity for anyone to attempt to influence the president by booking a stay there—a suspicion that seemed to be confirmed when a pro-business lobbying group relocated a meeting from a diplomat’s house to the new hotel the day after it opened.

As with all of Trump’s foreign properties, the property arguably violates the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, which says that federal officials can’t receive “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” But the first known government expenditure at the Vancouver hotel came not from a foreign entity—it came from the State Department. According to documents obtained by The Washington Post, the State Department spent more than $15,000 to book 19 rooms at the new hotel when the president’s adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, and his younger daughter, Tiffany, visited the property for its grand opening in February.

While the Trump Organization both owns and operates some of its flagship properties in the United States, such as Trump Tower in New York, the hotel in Vancouver is one of many licensing deals through which third-party companies pay to operate their hotels under the Trump brand. Though the president’s name appears in large gold letters on the building’s facade, the property is actually owned and managed by a Canadian company called The Holborn Group, which is in turn owned by the Malaysian billionaire Joo Kim Tiah. And, because the Trump Organization is a privately held company, the actual structure of the deal remains unknown: Though Trump declared more than $5 million in revenue from the property on his most recent financial-disclosure forms, it’s unclear whether that sum represents a flat fee or a percent of the hotel’s revenue. However, Slate noted that previous court filings show that some similar Trump properties operate on the latter model, suggesting that what Trump earns from the hotel hinges on its success.

If that is indeed the case, the State Department’s expenditures represent a conflict of interest for him. As I wrote in February, when the Secret Service spent more than $97,000 to accompany Eric Trump on a business trip to Uruguay, it’s first and foremost improper that the Trump Organization appears to be directly profiting from taxpayer money because of the increased security necessary when its leaders visit their holdings.

Moreover, the State Department’s expenditure arguably violates the Constitution’s Domestic Emoluments Clause, which states that the president “shall not receive … any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them” during his time in office aside from his official salary. Already, the Trump Organization is receiving taxpayer money from multiple federal agencies, including the Secret Service, which not only effectively subsidized Eric Trump’s business trip …read more

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