Upon Trump’s election to the presidency and his refusal to completely divest from his business interests— including innumerable real estate holdings— some warned that the president’s resulting conflict of interest could result in violations of the law, particularly the domestic emoluments clause of the article 2 of the U.S. Constitution.
Originally intended to prevent the President from putting his personal interests above those of the nation, the domestic emoluments clause bars the President from receiving any emolument, or compensation, from federal or state governments while in office other than the fixed Presidential salary. Trump has previously stated that he will reject the annual $400,000 salary while serving as President.
Though the Trump administration has essentially stonewalled many FOIA requests, a new FOIA release from an individual agency has shown that Trump-owned properties have been receiving substantial amounts of government funds in what appears to be a violation of the emoluments clause. The document, released by the General Services Administration (GSA) via a FOIA request reveals that the GSA spent $1,760.46 in just three days at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
This is by no means an isolated incident. Previous FOIA requests turned up several examples of federal staff using government charge cards (i.e. taxpayer funds) to stay at resorts owned by Trump. For instance, last year, a FOIA document revealed that the White House National Security Council (NSC) paid the full price of $1,000 for a two night stay of a single, unidentified guest at Trump’s luxury hotel Mar-a-Lago. According to financial disclosures filings, Trump holds a 99.99% stake in Mar-a-Lago and its profits are held in a revocable trust and Trump is able to withdraw funds from that trust without restriction.
Mar-a-Lago has often been cited as an example of Trump “monetizing” the Presidency, largely because Mar-a-Lago’s membership fee doubled after Trump was elected and each weekend Trump spends there has been alleged to cost taxpayers around $3 million— based on a government report of a trip to Chicago and Palm Beach taken by former President Barack Obama in 2013 reported by The Hill and The Washington Post— although Politifact notes that using cost estimates of Obama’s trip to compare to Trump’s excursions are not entirely accurate.
Other potential violations of the domestic emoluments clause that have come to light in the past year include payments of the U.S. Embassy to a Trump hotel in Panama, and federal employees using government charge cards to pay the full price for rooms at Trump’s Washington D.C. and Las Vegas hotels.
However, because of the difficulty in obtaining documents requested through FOIA from the Trump administration, it is unknown how many such violations exist. For instance, when asked to provide visitor logs from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, which the State Department has termed “the Winter White House,” the Trump administration only provided a list of the delegation that accompanied the Japanese Prime Minister during last year’s visit even though the President has received numerous visits from foreign and domestic government officials while at the Florida resort.
In addition, more than 80 high-ranking federal employees— based on social media activity alone— are known to have stayed at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. FOIA requests are currently being processed in order to determine if government funds were used during those visits.
While the lack of transparency has made it difficult to show if Trump is profiting from the presidency on a wide scale, these individual cases that have so far come to light raise cause for concern, particularly for those who had hoped to see a return to respecting the Constitution under Trump.