In the days leading up to the inauguration, Trump donors, Cabinet members, and supporters, including foreign dignitaries, descended on the brand new Trump International Hotel raising all sorts of legal ethical questions.
“Guests at the hotel include foreign diplomats and politicians who could be looking to curry favor with Mr. Trump — but even the act of paying their bills as they check out after the inauguration may open Mr. Trump to a challenge that he has violated the United States Constitution,” a piece in The New York Times states. Media was reportedly kicked out of the hotel, but one person posted this video on Instagram of Donald Trump making an appearance:
The biggest issue for ethics experts? There is a specific provision in the hotel’s 60 year lease with General Services Administration that specifically prohibits federal officials from renting the Old Post Office building (where the hotel is located). The portion of the lease says that “No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States … shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.” Well, clearly, since Trump is not divesting from his investments, he has much to gain from the hotel’s success. So will Trump be in violation of the contract the moment he is sworn in? At last check, the GSA is still looking into it, but legal experts say absolutely.
“We can make no definitive statement at this time about what would constitute a breach of the agreement, and to do so now would be premature,” a spokesperson for the GSA said back in December. “In fact, no determination regarding the Old Post Office can be completed until the full circumstances surrounding the President-elect’s business arrangements have been finalized and he has assumed office. GSA is committed to responsibly administering all of the leases to which it is a party.”
The other concern is that through his hotels, especially the one in D.C., Trump will be in violation of the U.S Constitution’s Emoluments clause which prohibits federal officials from being granted titles of nobility or accepting gifts from foreign government “without the consent of the United States Congress.”
“President-elect Trump has decided that he is going to voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotel to the United States Treasury,” Trump’s attorney Sheri Dillion said during a press conference. “This way, it is the American people who will profit.”
But some experts don’t think that goes far enough.
“When a foreign power or an institution directly or indirectly answerable to a foreign government pays fees or rents to a Trump property, it enriches and increases the value of the Trump brand globally . . . .” Harvard law Professor Laurence Tribe told LawNewz.com in a previous interview. “And the fact that Trump offers to share some of the cash with us plebeian taxpayers neither accounts for the ‘brand’ value the foreign government has added by visibly holding its signature events at his properties nor avoids the need for making accounting decisions whose intricacy will make them utterly opaque to meaningful public scrutiny.”