By Gregg Re
Published August 28, 2019
Attorney General Bill Barr has booked a 200-person holiday party, complete with a four-hour open bar and buffet, at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., for Dec. 8 -- and though he's using his own money, the move is raising ethics concerns among some observers.
The Barr "Family Holiday Party" is expected to generate roughly $30,000 in revenue for the hotel, at a rate of some $135 per person plus $4,500 to rent the hotel's Presidential Ballroom, according to The Washington Post. The Post first reported on the arrangement on Tuesday.
Fox News later confirmed the details of Barr's contract with the Trump D.C. hotel. The shindig is not an official Justice Department event.
A DOJ official told Fox News that Barr initially booked the party at The Willard nearby, but the hotel later backed out because it had double-booked.
An administration source separately told The Post that the nearby Mayflower hotel was likewise unavailable.
"Career ethics officials were consulted and they determined that ethics rules did not prohibit him from hosting his annual party at the Trump hotel," the DOJ official told The Post.
Liz Hempowicz, the director of public policy at the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, said in an interview with the paper that the contract was bothersome, if not technically a violation of ethics rules.
"It creates the appearance that high-level political appointees or allies of the president may feel like they need to spend money at the president’s businesses as a show of loyalty, and that is something that makes me deeply uncomfortable and should make taxpayers deeply uncomfortable," Hempowicz said.
Barr has become a target for congressional Democrats, many of whom have said he sought to play down former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's conclusions from a long-running probe of Russian election meddling and hasn't provided other records. House Democrats also voted to hold Barr in criminal contempt this past July for allegedly stonewalling their efforts to investigate why the Trump administration sought to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
Republicans have pointed out that Barr has released virtually all of Mueller's report, save for some legally mandated redactions, and have slammed the census probe as "political theater" given the ongoing negotiations between Democrats and the DOJ over the document productions.
News of Barr's impending holiday bash came as Democrats' legal challenges against Trump's business interests have hit a major snag. Last week, a federal court judge ruled that Trump could challenge congressional Democrats' Emoluments Clause lawsuit against him immediately, saying the litigation raised the "unsettled" constitutional question of whether politicians had standing to sue a sitting president for running businesses catering to international clients.
Judge Emmet Sullivan, whom President Bill Clinton appointed, ruled this summer that the 200 congressional Democrats did have the legal standing to sue Trump. But the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to Sullivan and instructed him to reconsider the unprecedented separation-of-powers implications of the case.
On further review, Sullivan, whom then-President Ronald Reagan had appointed to his first judgeship, rejected the Democrats' request to pursue discovery, including financial documents, from dozens of Trump's businesses.
Democrats also requested an immediate injunction barring Trump from making money on his international businesses, even as they acknowledged that the Trump Organization has already established a “voluntary procedure by which [it] identifies and donates to the U.S. Treasury profits from foreign government patronage at its hotels and similar businesses."
Instead, Sullivan allowed Trump the rare opportunity to pursue a so-called interlocutory, or mid-case, appeal, given the "substantial ground for difference of opinion" on whether the Democrats could sue the president on Emoluments Clause grounds.
A federal appeals court, earlier this year, dismissed a similar Emoluments Clause lawsuit filed against Trump by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia.
"I got sued on a thing called emoluments. Emoluments. You ever hear of the word? Nobody ever heard of it before," Trump said at an event in Pennsylvania earlier this month.
"What it is, is presidential harassment, because this thing is costing me a fortune, and I love it," Trump went on. "I love it because I’m making the lives of other people much, much better."
Fox News' Jake Gibson contributed to this report.