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The Hotelier-in-Chief: Trump’s Hospitality-Based Conflicts of Interest Are Mounting

Skift Take

It appears that Donald Trump and his team are using his newfound position to help his hotel business and facilitate his real estate development projects around the world. It’s only a matter of time until Trump’s personal business interests run counter to the interests of the U.S. citizens he is supposed to serve.

— Andrew Sheivachman

As we edge closer to the days of Donald Trump leading the United States, reports are mounting that he is using his newfound position to influence potential business partners and politicians.

This isn’t a surprise, but many of these apparent conflicts of interest seem to involve Trump pushing business toward his hotels around the world.

As Trump takes office, his team should be concerned about the ramifications of these reports with respect to the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits Presidents from accepting gifts from foreign states or leaders. The very nature of Trump’s complex international business dealings means that he will likely be in violation of this clause as soon as he takes office.

Here’s a rundown of reports so far involving Trump using the soft power of the U.S. Presidency to influence government and business representatives to spend money at his hotels, as well as attempts by foreign representatives to enter his hotel dealings.

The Kuwaiti embassy, for instance, is known to have moved an event usually held at the Four Seasons Georgetown to Trump’s new Washington, D.C., hotel. The Kuwaiti ambassador had received pressure from Trump representatives to move the event to a property associated with Trump, according to ThinkProgress.

Bahrain also recently moved an event to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., following the election, as did Azerbaijan.

Trump’s luxury projects in Asia also seem to present several areas that may conflict with his role as President. As The New York Times reports, forging deals for several Trump luxury properties under development in Indonesia has required Trump to build relationships with several Indonesian politicians.

To obtain his development deals, Trump partnered with Indonesian billionaire and media mogul Hary Tanoesoedibjo who had run for vice president of Indonesia in 2014 and is forming a new political party to support a future run for office.

Tanoesoedibjo put Trump in contact with speaker of Indonesia’s House of Representatives Setya Novanto in order to facilitate his hotel deals as well. Novanto temporarily removed himself from his political role after corruption allegations surfaced in 2015.

Trump currently has hotels under construction in India, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, and Uruguay. Before Trump had a phone conversation with Taiwan’s President in December, The Guardian reports that a representative of the Taiwanese President’s business conglomerate had a conversation with Trump Organization employee about financing a potential airport hotel in Taiwan.

Unrelated to foreign influence, Trump’s deal to lease the building for his Washington, D.C., hotel from the General Services Administration (GSA) contains a clause that may cause Trump to lose his stake in the hotel. The contract states that no elected official can have a stake in the lease, ostensibly because Trump would oversee the GSA as a part of his role as President creating a serious conflict of interest.

Perhaps the most visible conflict of interest so far was Trump’s New Year’s Eve celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last week.

Trump charged $525 for club members and $575 for others to attend the event, according to documents obtained by Politico, which featured hours of access to Trump, Trump’s family, and Trump Organization employees. The party received 800 attendees, netting Trump more than $400,000 in revenue.

An open question remains: Is it true that when the President does it, that it’s not illegal?

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