Trump plugs Mar-a-Lago during Japanese PM’s visit

President Trump plugged his Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday at the start of a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — saying that world leaders were clamoring for an invite to his fave Florida destination.

“Many of the world’s great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. They like it. I like it, we’re comfortable, we have great relationships,” Trump said before offering a somewhat patchy history of the storied waterfront property.

“As you remember, we were here and President Xi of China was here. It was originally built as the Southern White House. It was called the Southern White House. It was given to the United States, and then Jimmy Carter decided it was too expensive for the United States so they fortunately for me gave it back and I bought it.”

Mar-a-Lago was built as a residence for Post cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post beginning in 1924.

When she died in 1973, she bequeathed it to the National Park Service in the hopes that it could be used as a “Winter White House.”

But because it was so expensive to maintain, the property was returned to the Post Foundation by Congress in April 1981, when President Reagan was in office. Trump bought it in 1985.

“It was a circuitous route but now indeed it is the Southern White House,” the president continued. “Again, many of the leaders want to be here, they request specifically.”

The president also said that he and Abe would hit the links on Wednesday before holding bilateral discussions on trade, the Koreas and other topics.

Korea is coming along. South Korea is meeting and has plans to meet with North Korea to see if they can end the war and they have my blessing on that,” he said.

“People do not realize the Korean War has not ended. It’s going on right now and they are discussing an end to the war,” Trump said.

The fighting stopped on the peninsula when the parties signed an armistice in 1953, but the war was never officially declared over.

Trump is spending the week at Mar-a-Lago, the 17th time he has visited the resort since taking office.

[New York Post]

Media

EPA removes staffer who OK’d report on Pruitt’s security

EPA removed a career staffer Tuesday who approved an internal report that undermined Administrator Scott Pruitt’s claims that he needed around-the-clock bodyguards and other expensive security protection, according to two former agency employees familiar with the situation.

Mario Caraballo was the deputy associate administrator of EPA’s Office of Homeland Security, which in February concluded that an earlier assessment failed to identify credible direct threats against the administrator that would justify his heavy security spending.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote to Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) on Tuesday requesting oversight hearings and quoting the report, making public its doubts about the need for the heightened security.

One source with direct knowledge of Caraballo’s dismissal said the agency claimed he was let go because of a personnel issue from a previous military job nearly a decade ago that had been resolved then and already been reviewed by EPA several years ago. That source said senior officials also were not happy with the report from Caraballo’s office.

“They’re trying right now to just keep pressure on the wound,” the source said. “They’re trying to find out where these leaks are coming from … They’re in full panic mode right now.”

EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Donna Vizian said the agency would not comment on personnel matters. But she added that today’s action “was based on a recommendation by the Office of Administration and Resources Management. I am not aware of any connection between the personnel matter and the document mentioned in media reports.”

A career EPA staffer who has worked with Caraballo described him as a “standout manager,” and a “veteran and dedicated public servant and intelligence official to boot.”

The source predicted Caraballo’s dismissal would stiffen the resolve of Pruitt’s critics within the agency.

“This isn’t going to frighten staff, this is going to embolden us to leak more to get these criminals out,” the employee said Tuesday. “They need to know we’re not intimidated and we’re going to blow the whistle on anything even borderline questionable.”

In their letter to Barrasso, the two Senate Democrats said the records from the EPA, Secret Service and a terrorism task force fail to justify Pruitt’s use of the multimillion-dollar security detail.

Instead, according to the internal EPA memo, the “threats” include protesters attempting to disrupt one of Pruitt’s closed-door speeches, a letter from a prisoner, and a postcard that included the greeting: “CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL!!! We are watching you,” Carper and Whitehouse wrote to Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

The two Democrats demanded oversight hearings into Pruitt’s security spending, citing an internal EPA review, Secret Service threat assessments and a Joint Terrorism Task Force report.

But Barrasso rejected their request, while bashing the two Democrats for releasing “sensitive information.”

“I am deeply troubled that members of the committee would publicly release lawenforcement sensitive information regarding the safety and security of a cabinet member and his family,” Barrasso said in a statement. “This letter selectively quotes non-public documents.”

Barrasso added that “any reasonable reading” of those documents supported a conclusion that Pruitt faced a “variety of direct death threats.”

To the contrary, Carper and Whitehouse said the Secret Service identified no “reports of behaviors of interest” against Pruitt, and internal EPA reviews dispute “the administrator’s claims that the nature of the threats against him justify his expenditures.”

Pruitt has drawn widespread scrutiny for demanding a round-the-clock security detail, flying first-class to limit contact with threatening passengers, and having a soundproof booth installed in his office, among other steps — all of which offered far greater protection and privacy than his predecessors received. The Associated Press, citing an unnamed EPA official, said last week Pruitt’s “total security costs approached $3 million when pay is added to travel expenses.”

EPA has said Pruitt has experienced a sharp increase in threats compared with his immediate predecessor, Obama-era Administrator Gina McCarthy. Among specific incidents, the agency said one person had approached Pruitt in the Atlanta airport while yelling, “Scott Pruitt, you’re f—ing up the environment.”

In one of the nonpublic documents Carper and Whitehouse cited, the EPA Office of Homeland Security‘s intelligence team concluded that an earlier threat assessment prepared by Pruitt’s security team DOES NOT employ sound analysis or articulate relevant ‘threat specific’ information appropriate to draw any resource or level of threat conclusions regarding the protection posture for the administrator,” according to a section of the Feb. 14 memo reproduced in the senators’ letter (emphasis included). The memo concluded that EPA intelligence officials had “not identified any specific credible direct threat to the EPA administrator,” according to the letter.

None of the incidents listed concern air travel, according to the letter.

The senators said the records don’t match public statements from EPA and President Donald Trump, who tweeted Saturday that Pruitt’s expenses are justified.

One view is “that certain factions within EPA have justified the exorbitant taxpayer spending incurred by the administrator’s first-class travel and large entourage of security personnel through unsubstantiated claims about threats to his security, either at the direction of the administrator himself or others in the agency,” the senators said.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said Tuesday that “Scott Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him and these threat assessments are conducted within [Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance] using information collected from the [Protective Service Detail], EPA’s Office of Homeland Security, and Inspector General.“ He pointed to interviews with EPA’s inspector general office discussing an increase in threats compared to the previous administrator’s tenure.

[Politico]

Former staffer: EPA fired him for refusing to OK first-class flight

A former top EPA staffer has told Democratic lawmakers that the agency fired him after he refused to retroactively approve the first-class travel of one of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s closest aides, according to letters made public Thursday.

The dismissed political appointee, Kevin Chmielewski, also alleged that Pruitt flouted price limits on hotel stays and office decor, put an aide to work house-hunting for him, arranged taxpayer-funded trips to his native Oklahoma and other destinations just because he wanted to travel there and lied last week when he denied knowing about backdoor raises the agency had granted to two of his top aides, the lawmakers said Thursday in a letter to the agency.

In addition, Chmielewski detailed allegations of lavish spending on Pruitt’s personal security and a possible conflict of interest involving his top bodyguard, as well a $100,000-per-month private jet rental that he says EPA looked into at Pruitt’s direction. He also said, as POLITICO reported last week, that Pruitt was frequently late in paying the $50-a-night rent on his lobbyist-owned Capitol Hill condo last year.

The lawmakers, including Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), separately wrote to President Donald Trump and urged him to rethink his public support for the embattled EPA chief.

“… [I]t appears you may not have received all the facts surrounding Administrator Pruitt’s spending, security arrangements, travel, living arrangements, and personnel actions, among other things,” they wrote.

Carper and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) separately asked EPA’s inspector general on Thursday to look into Pruitt’s alleged use of four different email accounts at EPA, and whether federal record-keeping laws were followed.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox declined to specifically dispute the allegations from Chmielewski outlined in the letter, saying the agency would respond to the lawmakers “through the proper channel.” When Chmielewski’s dismissal was first reported last week, Wilcox called him one of “a group of disgruntled employees who have either been dismissed or reassigned.”

Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign staffer, was EPA’s deputy chief of staff for operations and handled many of Pruitt’s travel and logistics coordination. He has emerged as the best-known internal agency critic of Pruitt’s lavish spending and other practices, which have led lawmakers of both parties — and key White House aides — to push for the administrator’s firing.

Among his specific charges, Chmielewski told the lawmakers this week that Pruitt had requested that his aide Samantha Dravis, the head of EPA’s Office of Policy, join him in first class on a return flight from Morocco in December, where Pruitt had gone to promote U.S. natural gas.

Chmielewski told the lawmakers he refused to sign paperwork justifying Dravis’ first-class travel “because it violated federal travel regulations,” the Democrats wrote. He said another EPA staffer eventually signed off on the travel retroactively.

Chmielewski said his refusal to bless Dravis’ upgraded travel “appears to him to have been the final straw that caused you to remove him,” the lawmakers wrote to Pruitt. Ryan Jackson, Pruitt’s chief of staff, subsequently informed Chmielewski that Pruitt “wished to fire or reassign him,” they wrote.

Dravis disputed Chmielewski’s allegations, telling POLITICO that she never spoke with him about the upgrade approval, that she did not request the upgrade and that it was not approved retroactively. Dravis said she flew coach for three of the four legs of the trip, and was upgraded to business class for one of them in keeping with federal regulations about travel exceeding 14 hours.

Democrats and environmental groups have questioned the entire purpose of the Morocco trip, noting that EPA’s mission doesn’t include promoting U.S. natural gas exports. Energy Secretary Rick Perry declined to weigh in on that issue at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Thursday, saying it would be “a little inappropriate for me to be making a public or private observation” about whether Pruitt’s trip was justified.

Chmielewski also disputed Pruitt’s statement last week to Fox News that he did not know about raises that two of his aides, who had accompanied him to EPA from Oklahoma, received despite the White House’s disapproval. Pruitt told Fox that the raises were entirely carried out by unidentified staffers, and that he was correcting the matter after learning of it.

But Chmielewski said the raises were “100% Pruitt himself,” according to a quote included in the Democrats’ letter.

Chmielewski told the lawmakers that his dismissal came in February when the head of Pruitt’s security detail, Nino Perrotta, asked him to give up his government credentials when he returned to the agency after an unrelated overseas trip with Vice President Mike Pence.

According to the letter, Jackson told Chmielewski that Pruitt wanted him removed and one of the Oklahoma aides, Millan Hupp, promoted to his job and pay scale. Chmielewski said the White House would not approve of that arrangement, but that he later was removed and Hupp received the promotion and pay raise via special hiring authority in the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Other allegations made by Chmielewski, according to the letters, include:

— Pruitt’s security detail has purchased bulletproof vests, weapons and biometric locks and new SUVs to transport Pruitt, as opposed to getting vehicles via the General Services Administration. Chmielewski also alleges EPA has awarded security contracts to at least one person who works at the private security firm run by Perrotta.

— Pruitt had Hupp search for housing during work hours.

— Pruitt spent more than the $5,000 legal limit to redecorate his office.

— EPA staff, at Pruitt’s direction, considered a $100,000-per month private jet rental for the administrator. Chmielewski “claimed he successfully prevented this from occurring, as it would have been far in excess of the total travel budget of the office,” the Democrats wrote.

— Pruitt allegedly sought to travel to certain destinations and would ask EPA staff to find official business there to justify the taxpayer-funded trips. Chmielewski also says Pruitt told staff to find official reasons for him to be in or near Oklahoma to spend long weekends at home there.

— Pruitt “frequently” stayed in pricey hotels that exceeded allowable per diem spending, and that while Pruitt was reimbursed even when costs went over a 300 percent cap for exceptional circumstances, his bodyguards sometimes were not.

— Pruitt declined to plan to stay at hotels recommended by U.S. embassies during two planned international trips, choosing instead “more expensive hotels with fewer standard security resources.”

“The new information provided by Mr. Chmielewski, if accurate, leaves us certain that your leadership at EPA has been fraught with numerous and repeated unethical and potentially illegal actions on a wide range of consequential matters that you and some members of your staff directed,” the lawmakers wrote to Pruitt in asking for more documents.

Besides Carper and Whitehouse, the letters were signed by Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.).

[Politico]

EPA officials demoted, removed after voicing complaints about Scott Pruitt

At least five officials at the Environmental Protection Agency were demoted, removed, reassigned, put on leave or asked for new jobs after voicing concerns about embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Pruitt is in hot water after dominating the news cycle this week with reports that he lived in a condo belonging to the wife of a lobbyist, and that two of his top aides received hefty raises. Those stories follow others from earlier this year about Pruitt’s expensive travel. CBS News’ Julianna Goldman also reported Thursday that the agent in charge of Pruitt’s security detail was reassigned shortly after objecting to Pruitt’s desire to use sirens and lights when there was traffic, and he was late to a business meeting.

The New York Times reported that some EPA officials objected to office furniture spending, first-class travel, and additional security coverage — including a 20-person protective detail. One of the officials, political appointee Kevin Chmielewski, was placed on administrative leave without pay, the Times reported, citing two people familiar with the situation. Chmielewski, the Times reported, had voiced some of his concerns about Pruitt to the White House’s presidential personnel office.

Two other officials, career officials Reginald Allen and Eric Weese, were placed in jobs where they had less authority in spending decisions and interaction with the administrator when they expressed their concerns, the Times reported. And another career official, John Reeder, took a position with American University after the EPA told him to take a new job, according to the Times.

A spokesman for the EPA disputed the Times’ version of events.

“This is a group of disgruntled employees who have either been dismissed or reassigned,” said EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox.

Wilcox also responded to a New York Times story claiming Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, is considering leaving.

“EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson, is committed to advancing President Trump’s agenda of regulatory certainty and environmental stewardship and continues to do so under Administrator Pruitt’s leadership,” Wilcox said.

Stories about Pruitt have made headlines since last week, when ABC News first reported Pruitt last year lived in a condo belonging to the wife of a Washington lobbyist. As CBS News has reported, the condo cost Pruitt $50 a night, and he only paid for nights when he was in town. Pruitt has insisted the arrangement was signed off on by an ethics official. In an interview with Fox News’ Ed Henry Thursday night, Pruitt also addressed a report from The Atlantic that two staff members received hefty salary increases. Pruitt blamed whoever made that decision to give the raises, which he said he knew nothing about at the time, and said he had fixed the problem.

“I’m fixing the problem,” Pruitt told Henry.

An EPA spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Trump, at least publicly, is standing by Pruitt. The White House is reviewing Pruitt’s actions.

On Air Force One heading from West Virginia to Washington, D.C., Thursday, Mr. Trump called Pruitt a “good man.”

“I have to look at them,” Mr. Trump said of the claims against Pruitt. “…I’ll make that determination. But he’s a good man, he’s done a terrific job. But I’ll take a look at it.”

[CBS News]

Ivanka Trump’s clothing company will be spared from tariffs, thanks to her dad

The steel and aluminum industries in China will soon be slapped with tariffs up to $50 billion by President Donald Trump. On Thursday, after China announced their intentions to retaliate against the United States with $50 billion in tariffs of their own against U.S. goods, Trump warned that his administration would respond with another set of tariffs, this time targeting $100 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Exempt from the proposed tariffs against China, however, is the clothing manufacturing industry.

U.S. officials say they used an algorithm to determine which goods to exclude from new tariffs. According to the Washington Post, the list was drafted to achieve “the lowest consumer impact,” ensuring goods like clothing and toys were excluded so as not to raise the cost on domestic consumer goods.

Exempting clothing from the tariffs provides a big break to American clothing companies that hold trademarks in China. One of those clothing companies belongs to the First Daughter of the United States, Ivanka Trump.

A recent report by the Huffington Post found that the president’s daughter and closest adviser rakes in a total of $1.5 million a year from the Trump Organization while still working at the White House.

Her dual role as adviser to the president and private business executive has continuously raised ethical red flags. No one can be entirely sure that public policy by this administration isn’t being driven by business motives, or whether countries may pursue business deals with the Trump family as a means to curry political favor with the administration.

The clearest example of this ethical line-blurring comes from early in the Trump presidency, when Ivanka dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Trump family’s resort in West Palm Beach on the same day China approved three new trademarks for Ivanka’s company.

[ThinkProgress]

Kellyanne Conway cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars with trips on private jets

Kellyanne Conway traveled at least four times at taxpayer expense with former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price — and congressional Democrats want an explanation.

Price resigned Sept. 29 over his use of taxpayer-funded private jets during his seven months in office, and he has repaid a fraction so far of his travel expenses, according to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.

The Department of Treasury has received three checks from Price, who now works as an adviser for Jackson Healthcare, totaling $59,389.97 as reimbursement, according to Cummings.

HHS documents confirm Conway, the former Trump campaign manager and now a senior White House adviser, traveled along with Price at least four times between May and September at a cost to taxpayers of tens of thousands of dollars.

Conway was joined on at least one of those flights by her staff, and she and Price also traveled with other unspecified White House officials.

The cost of those flights to taxpayers was at least $59,101.35, according to Cummings.

Other travel expenses were not provided to the committee.

[Raw Story]

Longtime Trump aide fired over financial crime investigation

President Donald Trump’s longtime personal aide John McEntee was fired because he is currently under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes, a source familiar with his firing told CNN.

The charges are not related to the President, the source said.

Minutes after news of his departure broke, the Trump campaign announced McEntee would be joining the reelection effort as a senior adviser for campaign operations.

McEntee escorted from the White House on Monday, three sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN. Two sources said McEntee was pushed out because of issues with his security clearance, making him just the latest aide to be forced out because of difficulties obtaining a full security clearance.

McEntee declined a CNN request to comment.

“We do not comment on personnel issues,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN in a statement.

White House aides were stunned when they learned of McEntee’s sudden departure, two sources tell CNN. His abrupt firing came out of nowhere and there was no warning, they said.

McEntee was one of few aides who did not have their access to the President limited when John Kelly became the chief of staff last fall. He was a near-constant presence in the West Wing, and was one of a select group of staffers who were often summoned by the President to the White House residence. He regularly traveled with Trump, and was seen boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House as Trump headed for Pennsylvania on Saturday.

He was scheduled to travel to California with Trump on Tuesday, but then he was fired.
McEntee, who joined the Trump campaign in its first months, is the latest of the President’s longest-serving aides to leave or announce plans to leave the White House, following the resignation of White House communications direct Hope Hicks two weeks earlier.

McEntee served as Trump’s body man during the campaign and into the White House alongside the President’s longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller, who left the White House last fall. The role meant McEntee was nearly constantly at the President’s side.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news of his exit.

Trump reelection campaign manager Brad Parscale announced McEntee’s hire alongside that of Katrina Pierson, a Trump campaign spokesperson in 2016 who will join the 2020 campaign as a senior adviser.

“As we build out our operations for the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 reelection campaign, we are pleased to welcome back two outstanding members of our 2016 team,” Parscale said in a statement. “We need the help of proven leaders such as Katrina and John to promote the President’s growing portfolio of achievements across the country.”

McEntee is just the latest aide to leave the White House amid issues with his security clearance, after White House chief of staff John Kelly enacted a series of reforms following the scandal involving disgraced White House staff secretary Rob Porter.

Kelly sought to limit access to classified information for aides with longstanding interim security clearances and several aides have since left the White House after it became clear their applications for a full security clearances would not be approved.

[CNN]

Emails show Ben Carson and his wife were personally involved in buying $31,000 office furniture

Newly released emails show Ben Carson and his wife personally selected a $31,000 dining room set for his office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The liberal watchdog group American Oversight obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request, and the documents cast doubt on HUD spokesman Raffi Williams’ denial that Carson had any involvement in selecting the furniture, reported CNN.

“Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased,” Willliams told CNN last month, when the story first broke. “The secretary did not order a new table. The table was ordered by the career staffers in charge of the building.”

Carson himself blamed the purchase on an unnamed HUD staffer, and told CNN he was “surprised” by the $31,000 price tag and promised to cancel the order — which the company confirmed had happened on March 1.

“The secretary did not order a new table,” said Carson, the HUD secretary. “The table was ordered by the career staffers in charge of the building.”

But the newly released emails show two Carson aides discussed the dining set back in May 2017, when they asked about repairing the “fairly precarious” existing furniture, which would have cost an estimated $1,100 to fix.

Carson’s statement earlier this month confirmed he feared the old furniture was “unsafe” and “beyond repair.”

HUD’s scheduling office contacted Candy Carson, the secretary’s wife, in August to take part in the office redecorating, although the emails don’t show a response from her.

Carson said he and his wife were told there was a $25,000 budget that must be used by a deadline or it would be lost, and they received a $24,666 quote for the furniture.

“The career administration staffer sent the quote to Carson’s office,” CNN reported, “specifically Carson’s chief of staff and his executive assistant, casting further doubt on the agency’s assertion that the purchase was made entirely by career staff.”

The staffer told Carson the quote seemed to be reasonable and justified the purchase because the previous furniture was purchased in 1988, and receipts showed HUD moved forward with the purchase — which was now $7,000 higher — four months later.

One email chain shows serving cart options were approved by “leadership” but doesn’t specify who made the request.

That appears to contradict Williams’ sweeping denial that Carson and his wife had any involvement in the purchase process, or any interest in doing so.

Helen Foster, a senior career official at HUD, says she was demoted and replaced by a Trump appointee after refusing to break the law to approve the over-budget redecoration.

[Raw Story]

Interior secretary Ryan Zinke’s office spent $139,000 for construction on an office door

Records show the Interior Department spent nearly $139,000 last year for construction at the agency that was labeled on a work order as “Secretary’s Door.”

A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke did not provide answers Thursday to questions about whether changes had been made to a door in the secretary’s office.

Records show the Maryland contractor that performed the work, Conquest Solutions LLC, has done several renovation projects at federal buildings. A man who answered the phone at the company Thursday hung up when a reporter asked about Zinke’s office.

Zinke is one of several Trump Cabinet officials under scrutiny for questionable spending. He spent $53,000 on three helicopter trips last year, including one to go on a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence.

[Business Insider]

Trump Org. donates foreign profits but won’t say how much

The Trump Organization said Monday it has made good on the president’s promise to donate profits from foreign government spending at its hotels to the U.S. Treasury, but neither the company nor the government disclosed the amount or how it was calculated.

Watchdog groups seized on the lack of detail as another example of the secrecy surrounding President Donald Trump’s pledges to separate his administration from his business empire.

“There is no independent oversight or accountability. We’re being asked to take their word for it,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Most importantly, even if they had given every dime they made from foreign governments to the Treasury, the taking of those payments would still be a problem under the Constitution.”

Trump Organization Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance Counsel George Sorial said in a statement to The Associated Press that the donation was made on Feb. 22 and includes profits from Jan. 20 through Dec. 31, 2017. The company declined to provide a sum or breakdown of the amounts by country.

Sorial said the profits were calculated using “our policy and the Uniform System of Accounts for the Lodging Industry” but did not elaborate. The U.S. Treasury confirmed receipt of the check, but did provide any details, including the amount.

Watchdog group Public Citizen questioned the spirit of the pledge in a letter to the Trump Organization earlier this month since the methodology used for donations would seemingly not require any donation from unprofitable properties receiving foreign government revenue.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said that the lack of disclosure was unsurprising given that the Trump’s family businesses have “a penchant for secrecy and a readiness to violate their promises.”

“Did they pay with Monopoly money? If the Trump Organization won’t say how much they paid, let alone how they calculated it at each property, why in the world should we believe they actually have delivered on their promise?” Weissman said.

Ethics experts had already found problems with the pledge Trump made at a news conference held days before his inauguration because it didn’t include all his properties, such as his resorts, and left it up to Trump to define “profit.” The pledge was supposedly made to ameliorate the worry that Trump was violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bans the president’s acceptance of foreign gifts and money without Congress’ permission.

Several lawsuits have challenged Trump’s ties to his business ventures and his refusal to divest from them. The suits allege that foreign governments’ use of Trump’s hotels and other properties violates the emoluments clause.

Trump’s attorneys have challenged the premise that a hotel room is an “emolument” but announced the pledge to “do more than what the Constitution requires” by donating foreign profits at the news conference. Later, questions emerged about exactly what this would entail.

An eight-page pamphlet provided by the Trump Organization to the House Oversight Committee in May said that the company planned to send the Treasury only profits obviously tied to foreign governments, and not ask guests questions about the source of their money because that would “impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.”

“It’s bad that Trump won’t divest himself and establish a truly blind trust, and it’s worse that he won’t be transparent,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, ranking member on the House Oversight Committee. He called the Republicans refusal to do oversight, such as subpoena documents, that would shed light on Trump’s conflicts of interest “unconscionable.”

[ABC News]

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