WASHINGTON — One of the crown jewels of U.S. President Donald Trump’s real estate empire generated millions of dollars in revenue last year, reinforcing questions about the president’s businesses profiting from foreign and state government officials.
The luxury Trump International Hotel Washington, housed in the historic Old Post Office Pavilion building, brought in nearly $41 in million last year, a tad higher than the previous year, according to Trump’s latest financial disclosure form filed with the Office of Government Ethics and released Thursday.
The disclosure, required of all senior government officials, offers a snapshot of Trump’s debts, assets and income in broad ranges across hundreds of businesses he owns. In all, Trump reported income of at least $434 million for 2018, a decline from at least $450 million reported for 2017.
Not all Trump properties saw their revenue go up last year, however. Income at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s “Winter White House” in Palm Beach, Fla., fell $2.5 million to $22.7 million, according to the disclosure.
Conflicts of interest
Since taking office, the real estate mogul-turned-president has faced persistent criticism over his refusal to divest his assets, a decision critics say has created conflicts between his business and political interests.
Opened in late 2016, Trump’s Washington hotel, just blocks from the White House, is one of the most high-profile in his portfolio of hospitality properties and frequently attracts diplomats, corporate executives, and other deep-pocketed guests. It has become a lightning rod for those critics who have accused the president of illegally profiting from foreign diplomats and state government officials who frequent the property.
To ameliorate those concerns, Trump pledged before entering the White House to donate all foreign government profits at his hotels to the U.S. Treasury. In 2017, the Trump Organization voluntarily turned over more than $150,000 in profits from foreign governments to the Treasury, the company said last year. The company hasn’t said how much if any it donated last year.
Still, questions remain about whether Trump remains in violation of a clause of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits officials from accepting gifts or “emoluments” from foreign and state government officials without congressional approval.
In 2017, more than 200 Democratic members of Congress, as well as the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland, filed lawsuits against Trump, accusing him of violating the Constitution’s foreign and domestic emoluments clauses.
The president’s legal team has rejected the argument and sought to get the lawsuits dismissed.
Last month, a federal judge in the case brought by congressional members ruled they could move ahead with their lawsuit.
Just how much of the revenue at Trump’s Washington hotel comes from foreign and state government officials remains unclear. Several foreign embassies have reportedly hosted functions there at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars.
Scott Amey, the general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-based ethics watchdog, said those suing Trump can cite the revenue at the Old Post Office to argue that “there is a potential violation here.”
Ultimately, though, the U.S. Supreme Court may have to intervene in the case and decide what an emolument is, Amey said.
“There are some legal arguments being made by Trump’s team that hotel revenues and income aren’t considered an emolument,” he said.
The controversy over emoluments is one of several questions surrounding Trump’s business interests.
The New York Times reported earlier this month that Trump’s businesses lost more than $1 billion between 1985 and 1994, allowing him to avoid paying taxes for eight of those 10 years.
Trump called the report “a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job,” tweeting that real estate developers in the 1980s and 1990s were entitled to “massive write-offs and depreciation.”
Trump, breaking with a recent presidential tradition, refused to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential campaign, saying he was under audit by the Internal Revenue Service.
Democrats in the House of Representatives have subpoenaed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to turn over Trump’s personal tax filings for the past six years to the House Ways and Means Committee by Friday. Mnuchin has signaled he won’t comply with the subpoena.
In his financial disclosure form last year, Trump disclosed that he had reimbursed his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, between $100,000 and $250,000 for unspecified “expenses” incurred in 2016, an apparent reference to the $130,000 in hush money Cohen paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the campaign.
Cohen told members of Congress in March that in the end, he received $420,000 from Trump, more than triple the amount he had paid Daniels. Trump’s latest financial disclosure doesn’t account for the discrepancy.