6 countries spent $750K at Trump’s D.C. hotel, records show

Credit: CBSNews
Credit: CBSNews

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Washington — The governments of six foreign countries, including China and Saudi Arabia, spent at least $750,000 at former President Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel while he was in office, according to records obtained by House Democrats, renewing scrutiny over whether he profited from foreign governments during his one term in office.

The records from Trump’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, were obtained by a subpoena the House Oversight and Reform Committee issued in 2019. Committee chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, said Monday that the documents, which include hotel ledgers and receipts, “sharply call into question the extent to which President Trump was guided by his personal financial interest while in office rather than the best interests of the American people.”

In a letter to the acting archivist of the United States, Maloney wrote that the records the committee obtained show the governments of Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and China spent large sums of money at the Trump International Hotel in Washington during the same periods they were seeking to influence U.S. foreign policy. 

The Trump Organization, Mr. Trump’s namesake business entity, owned the hotel at the time. After he won the presidency in November 2016, Trump turned control of the Trump Organization over to his two adult sons but did not divest from his business interests.  

In September 2017, for example, when Trump met with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at the White House, Razak and his delegation spent at least $259,724 during an eight-day stay at Trump’s hotel, including $10,000 per night to stay in the hotel’s presidential suite, according to the letter. 

Washington public buildings
A view of Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C, on Oct. 18, 2021.

Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In addition to the room charges, the hotel charged the delegation $9,229 for “coffee breaks,” and Razak incurred charges of $1,500 for a “personal trainer,” according to a receipt Mazars turned over to the committee that was included in Maloney’s letter.

At the time of the White House meeting, the Justice Department was investigating Razak and some members of his family for diverting millions of dollars from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, allegedly laundering the money through U.S. financial institutions. Malaysian authorities ultimately convicted Razak on corruption charges in 2020 after he left office, and he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Documents obtained by House Democrats also showed that from late 2017 through mid-2018, as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed a land, sea and air blockade, Saudi and UAE government officials spent at least $164,929 at the Trump Hotel. 

In November 2017, for example, the letter states the UAE Embassy spent $33,512 at the hotel, for 55 rooms at an average rate of $750 per night, according to a hotel guest ledger Mazars gave to the committee. Several months later, across seven days in March 2018, the Saudi Ministry of Defense spent $85,961, including “renting several $10,500-suites — the most expensive rooms at the Trump Hotel,” Maloney said.

Stays by the Saudi and Emirati delegations occurred at the same time as Trump’s firing of his first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, whom the governments had been lobbying the then-president to remove, Democrats allege.

In the three months leading up to an early April 2018 meeting at the White House between Trump and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, records obtained by the Oversight panel show the Qatari government and associated entities spent more than $307,000 at the Trump Hotel. 

The ruling family of Qatar also spent at least $282,037 on an extended stay at the hotel, according to a hotel guest ledger obtained by the Democrats.

The records Mazars turned over to the House committee show that Brian Ballard, a Republican lobbyist whose firm was hired by Turkey, spent $21,209 across 37 nights at Trump’s hotel from September 2017 to April 2018. Ledgers of deposits from April 2018 also show charges of $65,139 for an “American Turkish Council Call In,” according to the panel. 

The documents further show that in late August 2017, months before Trump traveled to China and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a delegation from the Chinese Embassy spent $19,391 at Trump’s hotel.

In response to the committee’s findings, Eric Trump, executive vice president of the Trump Organization and the former president’s son, said in a statement that the company went to “tremendous lengths to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest” out of respect for the office of the presidency.

“We walked away from billions of dollars in new deals, ceased all international expansion, engaged with an outside ethics advisor to review any material transactions and furthermore, have voluntarily donated all profits from foreign government patronage at our properties back to the United States Treasury on an annual basis,” he said. “Moreover, my father is the first president in history to donate his annual salary back to the United States government. No president has made a greater financial sacrifice for the benefit of the country.” 

Ballard, the lobbyist, said in a statement that he stayed in a number of hotels, including the Trump Hotel, before purchasing a residence in Washington in 2018 and paid “fair market rates.”

“There is nothing unusual, newsworthy or noteworthy about that fact,” he said.

Democrats claim other records they obtained indicate the hotel may have sought business from China and Russia around this time, even though the Trump Organization said it would not enter into any foreign deals during Trump’s presidency. In June 2017, for example, the Trump Hotel’s director of marketing sought reimbursement of $1,950 for a business expense for a “Hotel in China,” the Mazars’ records show. Then, in October 2017, the same hotel director charged $5,000 for a trip hosted by the “Russian Service Bureau,” according to the documents.

In light of the new documents, Maloney requested records from the National Archives and Records Administration relating to the Trump Hotel or stays at other Trump-owned properties, as well as communications and documents related to the foreign governments’ stays at the Hotel.

“The president of the United States, who serves as the nation’s chief executive and wields enormous influence both domestically and abroad, must serve the public good — not his own personal financial interests,” Maloney wrote in a letter to Debra Steidel Wall, the acting archivist.

The New York Democrat said the documents released are the “first set,” and raise questions as to whether Trump distorted U.S. foreign policy to serve his financial interests. 

In addition to revealing foreign government spending at Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel, Maloney and the committee also obtained records showing that properties owned by the Trump Organization charged the U.S. Secret Service rates that exceeded approved government rates during Trump’s presidency. 

The Trump Organization put its Washington, D.C., hotel up for sale in October 2019, and the company announced in May that it closed on a $375 million deal.