The Trump-branded hotel blocks from the White House has quickly generated almost $20 million of income for the Trump Organization while Mar-A-Lago, the private club used as a “Southern White House,” has seen profits climb nearly 25 percent — figures that are sure to fuel ethics advocates’ charges that Donald Trump is profiting off the presidency.
Trump’s 98-page financial disclosure was released unexpectedly late Friday by the Office of Government Ethics, almost a year before required and with no initial comment or explanation from the White House.
Details about the Trump International Hotel in the revamped Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House are likely to become part of a growing debate over the constitutional ban on president’s receiving gifts and payments while in office — something known as the emoluments clause. It requires Congress to approve any payment or gift from a foreign entity a president decides to keep.
Trump faces three lawsuits already over that ban, with groups such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, and more than 200 members of Congress suing over the constitutional ban. They point to conferences held at the Washington hotel to promote U.S.-Turkey relations, the planned celebration there of Kuwaiti National Day and numerous private gatherings in the ballroom and other facilities.
In Friday’s financial disclosure report, which reflects business during the 2016 calendar year, the Trump Old Post Office LLC cited hotel-related revenue in reporting income of $19.6 million. The hotel has been open just a few months, and in his 2016 financial-disclosure report Trump had simply offered a range between $100,000 and $1 million.
“It certainly raises the question whether the income is coming from people wanting to get the president’s attention,” said Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for CREW. “We can presume it’s because he’s president … the question is where is that money coming from?”
To that point, a required foreign lobbying form filed by Saudi Arabia on May 31 shows the kingdom spent $270,000 on lodging and food at the Trump International Hotel between October 2016 and March 2017.
When stating he was stepping away from his business empire earlier this year, Trump pledged to donate profits from foreign government money spent at his hotels to the U.S. Treasury. But critics argue that isn’t happening, or at least not in a consistent, transparent fashion.
White House Spokesman Sean Spicer earlier in the week dismissed those concerns as partisan bickering, and in a brief statement late Friday, he did not address them anew.
“President Trump welcomed the opportunity to voluntarily file his personal financial disclosure form; while this filing is voluntary (as no report was due until May 2018), it has been certified by the Office of Government Ethics pursuant to its normal procedures," Spicer said.
Richard Painter, the chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007, saw the Friday disclosure as a missed opportunity.
“Bottom line ... he has not changed the fundamental economic relationship he has with the Trump Organization," said Painter, now a law professor at the University of Minnesota.
Trump, through his family, still retains the financial interest in the Trump Organization, he said. And significantly, the disclosure forms report only income.
"It does not include the debt that is held by the corporate entity," Painter said, noting that misses a tremendous array of potential conflicts, ranging from what the Trump family business might owe banks to partners who might put up investment in his foreign companies.
One marquis property showing income gain is the Palm Beach resort called the Mar-A-Lago Club, which Trump calls his southern White House and it doubled its initiation fees to $200,000 in January, weeks before Trump took office. The disclosure form includes reported income of $37.2 million for the Florida resort, up sharply from $29.8 million in the prior year’s report.
Trump has hosted foreign leaders such as Xi Jinping at the resort, further blurring the lines between politics and Trump Organization profits. In the five months he has been in office, Trump has visited Mar-a-Lago on 25 days and his golf clubs in Florida and in Virginia, outside Washington, on 31 days.
The disclosure forms are not audited balance sheets like those reported quarterly by large publicly traded companies such as GE or Apple. The financial disclosure forms list a filer’s positions held on companies and in a separate section the filer’s assets and income they generate. This number presumably doesn’t include offsetting expenses, taxes, depreciation and the like. Those would be found on tax returns, which Trump has declined to release despite saying during the campaign he’d do so.
The disclosure document was actually signed Wednesday by the president but released late Friday by the Office of Government Ethics. It shows Trump has “resigned” his participation in 565 companies, “quitting” most of these companies on Jan. 19, 2017, the day before he was sworn in as the nation’s 45th president.
After taking office, Trump opted against Office of Government Ethics recommendations that he divest his holdings. Instead, he transferred day-to-day management of most of the companies to his sons Eric and Donald Jr., who pledged they’d keep work and the White House separate.
They haven’t, however.
Both regularly tweet support of their father’s presidency and appear on cable television promoting their father’s political priorities. They also criticize his detractors, blurring the line between the Trump Organization and the Trump White House.
Trump’s golf courses also show large amounts of reported income — which presumably does not reflect offsetting expenses. His course in Jupiter, Fla., reported $20.1 million income while his Bedminster, N.J., course generated income of $19.7 million. His Charlotte, N.C., course reported income of $15 million. The Trump National Golf Club in the District of Colombia reported income of $17.5 and income on the prized Trump National Doral golf course in Miami of $115.8 million actually reflected a decline from $131.9 million in the 2016 report.
Ben Wieder contributed to this report.