Despite ethics concerns, the federal government has issued a ruling claiming the Trump Hotel is NOT in violation of the lease. The ruling came as a surprise to many who pointed to a clause in the lease agreement that states “no government official can be a party to it.” But should we really be all that surprised? After all, Trump oversees the organization that holds the lease to the Trump International Hotel, the General Services Administration (GSA), so he pretty much became the landlord of his own hotel when he was sworn in.
Concern over President Trump’s role with his hotel isn’t new, though. However, to quell these concerns, he took care to divest himself from the hotel by transferring “control of his vast business holdings to Donald Jr., Eric Trump and a Trump Organization executive” even before he was officially elected. On top of that, the GSA and Trump set up financial trusts and legal arrangements to ensure the president “will not get any money from the hotel while he is in office.”
Kevin Terry, the GSA’s contracting officer, explained how the money would be used going forward in a letter to the Trump organization, saying “in simple terms, what this accomplishes is that the funds generated by the hotel will not flow to the president. Instead, the money will be put back into the hotel.”
Despite all of this, some government ethics experts are still concerned about the clause in the lease that says no elected official “shall be admitted to any share or part of this lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.” They’re also worried that individuals and organizations, including guests and foreign government officials, might try to “ingratiate themselves with Trump and the U.S. government by spending their money there.”
The same ethics experts also pointed out that, at the end of the day, President Trump is still the “ultimate beneficiary of the company’s success, including the hotel.” In a statement to CNNMoney, Richard Painter, the chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, said “this is wrong.” He added, “forget about all these corporate entities and trustees and the games they want to play. Follow the money. The money is going to him.”
Robert Weissman, president of the progressive advocacy group Public Citizen also chimed in on the latest ruling, claiming “it provides a tortured and wholly uncompelling analysis to avoid the central facts of the case: The GSA contract says that government officials cannot own or benefit from a lease, and President Trump both owns and benefits from the lease.”
Others felt disappointed by the ruling. For example, spokespeople for the legal watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said “Donald Trump still owns the hotel, still will benefit from payments and still has a vested interest in its success.”
Despite all the criticism surrounding the ruling, representatives for the Trump Hotel said they’re pleased. In a statement, they said, “we would like to thank the GSA for their diligent review of this matter. We are immensely proud of this property and look forward to providing our guests with an unrivaled luxury experience for years to come.”