When my daughters were very young, we used to ask them an age-old question: Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar? Each one would respond, “Not me.” Well, there are many cookie jars these days in Washington and New York, but the biggest one is the Trump Organization, which fills up every day with the proceeds from Trump properties all over the world.
At the outset of President Trump’s term, he was asked to suspend any connection between himself and the Trump Organization and its properties. He made some vague statement about how he would conduct himself while in office, but if you believed that, I could’ve sold you an interest in the Brooklyn Bridge. As each day goes by, the coffers of the Trump conglomerate are enriched by money coming from near and far away, all with the blessings of the president.
The most blatant money grab is the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Lobbyists, foreign dignitaries and favor-seekers fill the lobby and the rooms of the facility in the hope of gaining the attention of the president or members of the family organization. It’s estimated that the hotel earned $8 million in profits in 2018 thanks to its status as a branded property in the nation’s capital.
In recent weeks, America has gotten a taste of how various individuals are seeking to curry favor with the Trump family. Attorney General William Barr, who is supposed to be the person in charge of keeping America’s moral standards at the highest level, announced that he would have his holiday party at the Trump International, at an estimated cost of $30,000. There are many fine establishments in Washington that could accommodate the Barr family, but somehow it’s a sign of loyalty to book a Trump facility.
Vice President Mike Pence decided he would use the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg, Ireland, for a stopover, even though it was 165 miles from his planned event and required two costly round trips with Secret Service protection to get him to his leadership meeting. Pence, who’s usually guarded about any subject, said that he went to Doonbeg on the “president’s recommendation” and then he backtracked on that admission. So much for profiles in courage.
It isn’t a coincidence that Air Force planes are making their refueling stops at Prestwick, Scotland, which is near the Trump Turnberry. There may be logistical reasons for these landings, but the U.S. military should avoid having its reputation compromised by activities that don’t look very good. The armed forces of our country have to avoid the appearance of currying favor with the commander in chief.
Taking issue with the president for earning money while in office isn’t idle criticism. Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution restricts members of government from receiving gifts, emoluments, offices or titles from foreign states or monarchies without the consent of Congress. Some of the funds flowing into the Trump Organization may pass the test, but when foreign dignitaries patronize your facilities, that’s a direct violation of the Constitution.
Another good example is the business activities of Ivanka Trump. She’s part of the administration, but has been the recipient of various licenses for her businesses from the Chinese government, some of them on the eve of a presidential visit. Or the investment of Arab money into properties owned by Jared Kushner’s family. Does that step over the line? You decide.
Pence spoke recently at a rally for a North Carolina congressional candidate. He boldly stated that “It will take another four years to drain the swamp” as an appeal for the president’s re-election. But somehow the swamp has become a money pit for a lot of people associated with this president, and it appears that there are plenty of dollars yet to be made.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.