Vice President-elect Mike Pence is using the capital’s glamorous new Trump International Hotel as a backdrop for major events. The Bahrain government is hosting its “national day” reception at President-elect Donald Trump’s elegant D.C. property Wednesday. This, amid reports that delegations from foreign countries are eagerly snapping up pricy rooms at the Pennsylvania Avenue location.
Taken together, the developments give a snapshot of the kind of ethical entanglements Trump could face with his newest luxury property -- and the broader conflict of interest questions surrounding his business empire -- as he prepares to move into the White House less than a mile away.
One Asian diplomat recently told The Washington Post: "Why wouldn't I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, 'I love your new hotel!' Isn't it rude to come to his city and say, 'I am staying at your competitor?'"
Larry Noble, general counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, cited this kind of scenario as a problem.
“They are saying that of course we'll stay at the Trump hotel. We're going to see the president and when we see the president, we want to say you have a wonderful hotel there,” he told Fox News. “So he's really profiting from this. It really creates real conflicts of interest.”
At issue is the “foreign emoluments clause” of the Constitution, which bars U.S. government officials from accepting gifts from foreign powers without congressional approval.
Bahrain isn’t the only foreign government sending money into the Trump Organization’s coffers this month. The Azerbaijani Embassy is hosting a Hanukkah party at the Trump hotel next week.
Trump and his family say they’re trying to put up the necessary firewalls to settle any ethical questions.
Shortly after his election, Trump declared he would be distancing himself from the business and making sure his children take on a bigger role in the Trump Organization.
He and daughter Ivanka told CBS’ “60 Minutes the company’s brand paled in comparison to the importance of governing.
“I don't think it matters. This is so much more important,” Ivanka Trump said. “And more serious. And so … you know, that's the focus.”
Donald Trump echoed his daughter message
“This is big league stuff. This is … our country. Our country is going bad. We're going to save our country. I don't care about hotel occupancy. It's peanuts compared to what we're doing,” he said.
With the president-elect now promising a Dec. 15 news conference where he will officially turn over the business to his children, good government groups are suggesting that is not enough – and the entire family should get out of the business.
“I think this is a really dangerous area and I think he's going to see it,” Noble said. “Hopefully he's going to see it, and they're just going to divest.”
In one curious development, while Ivanka Trump and her father said she and her siblings were taking on a bigger role in the business, reports have surfaced that she and her husband are moving to Washington – suggesting she may instead be taking on a bigger role in the government and raising more questions of who’s poised to run the family business.