A few months ago, I began working with Scott Anderson and Sabrina McCubbin on an interesting project: trying to discern whether the State Department was, quite literally, paying President Trump money. Today, having gotten no response from the department on the subject, I filed a lawsuit on the subject.
It might sound crazy to think that a federal agency is putting money in Trump’s pocket, but we suspected it might be happening. Ethics concerns about the Trump International Hotel in Washington have tended to center on whether visits paid for by foreign governments constitute “emoluments” within the meaning of the Constitution. But what about our own government? The State Department routinely organizes trips by foreign officials to Washington to receive U.S. government training: for example, drug interdiction training provided by the Drug Enforcement Administration to foreign law enforcement officials. But given the tendency of foreign officials to stay at Trump properties, we thought it prudent to check whether the State Department was either paying for or reimbursing for stays at a hotel owned by the President himself.
By check here I mean filing a Freedom of Information Act Request to shed light on the question.
We sought records related to the State Department’s reimbursement for stays at the Trump Hotel, as well as records related to booking of hotel accommodations at the Trump Hotel by the State Department. For comparison purposes, we also asked for records related to all booking and reimbursements for hotel accommodations provided to foreign officials in Washington and all records related to the budgeting and accounting for these expenses.
At the State Department’s request, we narrowed the FOIA request. But we got nothing.
So today, represented by the folks at Protect Democracy, I sued. Here’s the complaint. I’ll post any results we receive.