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

Trump Jr. business partner has had access to government officials

A Texas hedge fund manager with business ties to Donald Trump Jr. was able to meet with top national security officials in the last year to pitch a plan that would help U.S. companies in Venezuela, The Associated Press reported Monday.

The news outlet obtained court records and documents that show Trump Jr. has been in business with Gentry Beach dating back to the mid-2000s, and that the two recently formed a company.

Beach and an Iraqi-American businessman met last year with National Security Council officials and pitched a proposal to curb sanctions in Venezuela and open up business for U.S. companies there, the AP reported.

An official told the news outlet that officials didn’t act on the pitch, but were told to take the meeting because of Beach’s ties to Trump Jr.

The Trump Organization said in a statement that Trump Jr. hasn’t played a role arranging meetings with “anyone at the White House or any other government agency.”

Beach told the AP in a statement that he never used his relationship with Trump Jr. to try and influence the government.

A Trump Organization attorney acknowledged that Trump Jr. had business relations with Beach in the past, but pointed the AP to a previously released statement that said their relationship was “strictly personal.”

The Trump administration has drawn scrutiny from watchdog groups since President Trump took office over concerns that the president has not adequately separated himself from his family’s business affairs.

Trump turned over the Trump Organization to his two adult sons, Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, when he took office. Multiple watchdog groups have filed complaints that the business is using the presidency to enrich itself.

[The Hill]

Qatar Refused to Invest in Kushner’s Firm. Weeks Later, Jared Backed a Blockade of Qatar.

Jared Kushner’s father met with Qatar’s minister of finance last April, to solicit an investment in the family’s distressed asset at 666 Fifth Avenue, according to a new report from the Intercept.

The Qataris shot him down.

Weeks later, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates organized a blockade of Qatar. The Gulf monarchies claimed that this act of aggression was a response to Donald Trump’s call for the Arab world to crack down on terrorists — after taking in the president’s majestic sermon in Riyadh, the Saudis simply couldn’t live with themselves if they didn’t take action to thwart Qatar’s covert financing of Islamist extremism.

In reality, the Saudis’ primary aim was to punish Doha for asserting its independence from Riyadh by, among other things, engaging with Iran and abetting Al Jazeera’s journalism. This was obvious to anyone familiar with the Saudis’ own affinity for (shamelessly) exporting jihadism — which is to say, anyone with a rudimentary understanding of Middle East politics.

And it was equally obvious that the United States had nothing to gain from a conflict between its Gulf allies. Qatar hosts one of America’s largest and most strategically important air bases in the Middle East. Any development that pushes Doha away from Riyadh pulls it toward Tehran. Thus, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — and virtually every other arm of the U.S. government — scrambled to nip the blockade in the bud.

But Jared Kushner was (reportedly) an exception. Donald Trump was more than happy to endorse the idea that his speech had moved mountains, and commended the Saudis for punishing Qatar — first on Twitter, and then during a press conference in the Rose Garden. According to contemporary reports, his son-in-law was one of the only White House advisers to approve of this stance.

Perhaps, Kushner’s idiosyncratic view of the blockade had nothing to do with Qatar’s rejection of his father. Maybe the senior White House adviser simply wanted to tell Trump what the latter wished to hear. Alternatively, it’s at least conceivable that contemporary reports were wrong, and that Kushner played no significant role in Trump’s decision to support the blockade.

Regardless, the senior White House adviser is adamant that there was no relationship whatsoever between his family’s business dealings and the administration’s policy. “It is fantasy and part of a misinformation campaign for anyone to say or any media to report that Mr. Kushner took any action with respect to Qatar or any other country based on whether anyone in that country did or did not do business with his former company from which he disengaged before coming into the government,” Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Mr. Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, said in a statement. “Mr. Kushner has not taken part in any business since then. This is nonsense.”

The government of Qatar, however, suspects otherwise. As NBC News reports:

Qatari government officials visiting the U.S. in late January and early February considered turning over to Mueller what they believe is evidence of efforts by their country’s Persian Gulf neighbors in coordination with Kushner to hurt their country, four people familiar with the matter said. The Qatari officials decided against cooperating with Mueller for now out of fear it would further strain the country’s relations with the White House, these people said.

It’s worth noting that the project the Qatari foreign minister refused to finance wasn’t just one more item in the Kushner family’s portfolio; it was Jared’s baby — his misbegotten, sickly, drowning baby.

In 2007, Jared Kushner decided that the real-estate market had nowhere to go but up. And so the 26-year-old mogul decided to plow $500 million of his family’s money — and $1.3 billion in borrowed capital — into purchasing 666 Fifth Avenue for twice the price it had previously sold for. Even if we’d somehow avoided a global financial crisis, this would have been a bad bet: Before the crash, when the building was almost fully occupied, it generated only about two-thirds of the revenue the Kushners needed to keep up with their debt payments.

After the crisis, however, things got really hairy. The Kushners were forced to sell off the building’s retail space to pay their non-mortgage debt on the building — and then to hand over nearly half of the office space to Vornado as part of a refinancing agreement with the real-estate giant.

The office space that the Kushners retained is worth less than its $1.2 billion mortgage — which is due early in 2019. If their company can’t find some new scheme for refinancing and redeveloping the property by then, Kushner will have cost his family a fortune.

And Jared really doesn’t want that to happen. In the months between his father-in-law’s election and inauguration, Kushner divided his time between organizing the transition, and seeking capital from (suddenly quite interested) investors aligned with foreign governments: During that period, Kushner attempted to secure a $400 million loan from the Chinese insurance firm Anbang, and a $500 million one from former Qatari prime minister and billionaire investor Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, also known as “HBJ.” Anbang pulled out once the deal attracted critical media scrutiny, and HBJ jumped ship when the Kushners failed to find a second major source of capital.

In those same weeks, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, head of the Kremlin-affiliated Vnesheconombank. The senior White House adviser has insisted that this meeting was strictly political; Gorkov maintains it was strictly business.

All of these interactions are currently being scrutinized by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

They have also, apparently, been studied by top government officials in the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico — all of whom have privately discussed strategies for exploiting Jared Kushner’s business interests for geopolitical gain, according to a report from the Washington Post on Wednesday.

And if America’s allies and adversaries are looking for further (circumstantial) evidence that U.S. foreign policy might be for sale, the New York Times provided some this week, when it revealed that Kushner’s family company had won $500 million in financing last year from a pair of American firms right after their top executives had White House meetings with one Jared Kushner.

Maybe all of this looks worse than it is. But it looks like the president’s son-in-law worked to sour relations with a key U.S. ally in the Middle East — which has since drifted further into the orbit of a regime hostile to the United States — because it refused to bail out his family’s underwater real-estate investment.

Even if this is appearance is deceiving, why isn’t the mere semblance of such high corruption enough to bounce Kushner from the White House? Are Kushner’s personal skills really more valuable than his conflicts of interest are toxic? Is a real-estate heir who has no policy-making experience, background in geopolitics, or security clearance — but does have significant business interests in Israel — really such an ideal choice for brokering peace in the Middle East?

Kushner’s sole qualification for his senior White House position (beyond having been born and betrothed to the right people) is the business savvy that allowed him to avoid squandering his family’s enormous fortune — and if he doesn’t auction off American foreign policy for an emergency loan, he very well may have to delete that item from his résumé.

[New York Magazine]

Trump Promised Not to Work With Foreign Entities, His Company Just Did

A major construction company owned by the Chinese government was hired to work on the latest Trump golf club development in Dubai despite a pledge from Donald Trump that his family business would not engage in any transactions with foreign government entities while he serves as president.

Trump’s partner, DAMAC Properties, awarded a $32-million contract to the Middle East subsidiary of China State Construction Engineering Corporation to build a six-lane road as part of the residential piece of the Trump World Golf Club Dubai project called Akoya Oxygen, according to news releases released by both companies. It is scheduled to open next year.

The companies’ statements do not detail the exact timing of the contract except to note it was sometime in the first two months of 2017, just as Trump was inaugurated and questions were raised about a slew of potential conflicts of interest between his presidency and his vast real estate empire.

The Chinese company, known as CSCEC, is majority government-owned — according to Bloomberg and Moody’s, among others — an arrangement that generally encourages growth and drives out competition. It was listed as the 7th largest company in China and 37th worldwide with nearly $130 billion in revenues in 2014, according to Fortune’s Global 500 list.

The company, which has had a presence in the United States since the mid-1980s, was one of several accused by the World Bank of corruption for its role in the bidding process for a roads project in the Philippines and banned in 2009 from World Bank-financed contracts for several years.

Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs and strategy at Issue One, which works to reduce the role of money in politics, said doing business with a foreign entity poses several potential problems for a president, including accusations that a foreign government is enriching him, gaining access to or building goodwill with him and becoming a factor in foreign policy.

The Trump Organization agreed to not engage in any new foreign deals or new transactions with a foreign entity — country, agency or official — other than “normal and customary arrangements” made before his election.

But Trump ignored calls to fully separate from his business interests when he became president. Instead, he placed his holdings in a trust designed to hold assets for his “exclusive benefit,” which he can receive at any time. He retains the authority to revoke the trust.

McGehee said Trump clearly knew foreign arrangements could be problematic because he outlined a list of restrictions, although vague ones, for his company to follow while he served as president. But more importantly, she said, the writers of the U.S. Constitution knew they could be too.

The Emoluments Clause in the U.S. Constitution says officials may not accept gifts, titles of nobility or emoluments from foreign governments with respect to their office, and that no benefit should be derived by holding office.

“This is not just a concern of good government organizations,” she said. “It was a fundamental concern of the founding fathers.”

Trump pledged to donate profits from spending by foreign governments at his hotels to the U.S. Treasury, though he has been accused of violating the constitutional restriction and faces multiple lawsuits over the issue.

In some deals reviewed by McClatchy, the Trump Organization licenses its name and receives royalties from a project but does not have any input on who the developer hires. But in other cases, officials from the Trump Organization, including the Trump children, have taken a great interest in the development, walking the sites to check on progress.

An official with the Trump Organization, which is run by the president’s adult sons, confirmed the company licensed its name and brand to DAMAC Properties and has entered into an agreement to manage the Dubai golf course.

The Chinese company was appointed by DAMAC to undertake some infrastructure work and to build one of their hospitality developments” said the Trump Organization official who asked for anonymity. The official said the residential project and the golf course are “totally unrelated” despite marketing materials, including brochures, websites and news releases, showing them intricately tied together. DAMAC and CSCEC did not respond to messages about the development.

CSCEC appears in the Panama Papers, a massive data breach from law firm Mossack Fonseca whose publication last year lifted the veil on the secretive world of offshore companies, which can be used for legitimate business purposes but can also be used to evade taxes and launder money.

The documents show CSCEC had offshore companies listed in the Bahamas and in Panama, where it has projects. Mossack Fonseca subjected it to greater scrutiny, giving it Politically Exposed Person status, in part because of its state-owned status.

The company’s contract is for work on the Trump World Golf Club Dubai project, which boasts of “living on a grand scale” with a golf course designed by famed American golfer Tiger Woods, thousands of sleek, modern villas, restaurants, shops, schools, nurseries and a lake. The development touts it will house Dubai’s first tropical rainforest complete with waterfalls and tropical birds under a sky dome.

“This unparalleled development provides luxury living on a grand scale, with over 2,000 hotel apartments of varying size, all offering exceptional views of the development, the lake and the lush fairways of the Trump World Golf Club Dubai,” according to a brochure. “The properties are fully furnished and our staff is available to you 24 hours a day, to ensure that you enjoy premium service on a par with the world’s finest hotels.”

In February, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., attended a ceremony to open the first golf club in Dubai after their father spent years trying to break into the Middle East market.

Trump International Golf Club Dubai, part of a larger project built by a development giant DAMAC Properties on the outskirts of Dubai, includes more than 100 Trump-branded villas selling from $1 million to $4 million.

Hussain Sajwani, DAMAC’s wealthy chairman, who has family members listed in the Panama papers, offered the Trump Organization $2 billion in deals following Trump’s election, according to both sides. Trump said he rejected the offers to avoid conflicts of interest.

“Over the weekend, I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai with a very, very, very amazing man, a great, great developer from the Middle East,” Trump said at a news conference in January. “And I turned it down. I didn’t have to turn it down because as you know I have a no conflict situation because I’m president…But I don’t want to take advantage of something.”

Don’t forget: Trump is Using the Presidency to Enrich His Family

Amid the avalanche of news about North Korea, Russia and President Trump’s open feud with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), don’t lose sight of this bit of news: Trump’s family business has earned a nearly $2 million profit in just four months this year from the new Washington hotel that bears his name.

Given that in the past 24 hours Trump has threatened nuclear war with North Korea, thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats from Moscow and publicly attacked his party’s leader in the Senate, it’s easy to lose sight of another ongoing scandal: How Trump continues to line his family’s pockets through the presidency.

It’s unprecedented to have a president who retains a stake in businesses as sprawling as the Trump empire. But Trump has taken business conflicts to yet another level by tying the Trump Hotel so explicitly to the presidency.

Trump’s Washington hotel is the new power hub in Washington. Before he became president, the Trump family company projected the hotel would lose money this year. But instead it has become a profit center, owing to its transformation into “a kind of White House annex,” The Post’s Jonathan O’Connell reported this week.

After spending just one month in the hotel’s public spaces, Post reporters witnessed, among other things, luminaries of Trump’s world, including current White House staffers and former New York mayor and Trump ally Rudolph Giuliani, “posing for selfies at the bar the night Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey,” and former Trump campaign manager-turned-lobbyist Corey Lewandowski sitting in “a black leather chair marked ‘Reserved.’” In July, Republican fundraisers used the space to raise $10 million for Trump’s reelection campaign.

Trump’s tweets and Thursday’s mad, impromptu news conference might eclipse his presidency-for-profit, but don’t forget: his “working” vacation has also been a daily advertisement for his Bedminster, N.J., golf resort, another showpiece in his family’s vast holdings around the world. When Trump is on television, golfing or eating or roaming around Bedminster, it’s free advertising not only for the resort, but also for the Trump brand as a whole.

Of course, we knew this was coming. Before Trump took office in January, ethics watchdogs warned that unless Trump established a blind trust, he risked embroiling himself in unprecedented conflicts of interest. Trump declined to take this step, and although he has left the day-to-day operation of the family companies to his adult sons, he and his family members, including his daughter Ivanka, who works at his side in the White House, still stand to profit from them.

And they have. From the time the Washington hotel opened last year through June 2017, Ivanka Trump has earned $2.4 million from her stake in it.

The Trump Hotel is the most blatant example of how Trump is selling the presidency. No ordinary luxury hotel in a city that boasts more than a few, the Trump Hotel is where foreign dignitaries, lobbyists, White House staff, Cabinet officials, Trump confidants, Republican fundraisers, elected officials, religious leaders and assorted sycophants gather — to see and be seen, to rub elbows with the powerful, to possibly catch a glimpse of the president himself, and, most crucially, to patronize the hotel owned by the most powerful person in the world.

It doesn’t come cheap: Guests have paid, on average, $652.98 a night to stay there, according to the Post investigation; a special cocktail in the bar costs $100, and a bartender might try to sell you a $2,500 bottle of bubbly. With a social media-obsessed president, patrons are eager to post about reveling in the opulence and in praise of the Trump brand.

As Walter Shaub, the since-departed director of the Office of Government Ethics, has said of Trump’s refusal to divest from his business holdings, “a conflict of interest is anything that creates an incentive to put your own interests before the interests of the people you serve.” Trump’s continued stake in the hotel and ongoing promotion of it by using his name as the draw risks the appearance of “using the presidency for private gain,” Shaub told Vox.

But while the D.C. hotel is the most prominent example of Trump profiting off his office, it’s not the only one. Richard Painter, who served as George W. Bush’s ethics counsel, has called the hotel “really just a tip of the iceberg.”

There’s an even more cynical twist to the story that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Consider the working-class voters Trump has duped into believing he’s come to Washington to save their jobs and way of life. They couldn’t possibly dream of spending the kind of money it takes to stay at Trump’s hotel. But Trump is continuing to use one of his chief selling points in running for president — his success as a businessman — to maintain support from this base. And the money Trump rakes in from his hotel feeds that image. For Trump and his supporters, then, those profits are not an abuse of his office, they are proof of the financial success he says is the mark of a strong leader.

Beyond this, there’s another dynamic at work: Trump is able to get away with this sort of self-dealing in part because he’s making a mess on so many other fronts. Because of the sheer chaos of Trump’s presidency — Trump’s erratic behavior, the West Wing mayhem, the cloud of the Russia investigation — this alarming new reality has gone overshadowed, and he has managed to move the ethical goalposts of the Oval Office. The public has only so much bandwidth to absorb the scale and scope of this administration’s unraveling of ethical norms.

One of the biggest challenges of the post-Trump era will be how to restore the norms and standards that Trump has so blithely trashed. Someday, Americans — from the people who run our government to the citizens in every corner of the country — will have to reckon with what he has done, and figure out how to undo it. That process will probably have to start with some basic reminders that the presidency is not for sale.

[Washington Post]

Trump Holds $10 Million Dollar Fundraiser at His Hotel

Protesters greeted the president with cries of “Shame!”as he arrived at the $35,000 per person bash.

Many were unhappy with the Republican healthcare plan, holding placards that said “Healthcare, not tax cuts”.

Holding the fundraising event at Trump International Hotel has increased concerns about conflicts of interest.

Richard Painter, who served as the chief ethics lawyer in the White House for former President George W Bush, said it was unacceptable for the president to be potentially benefiting financially from this kind of event. He should have picked another hotel, he said.

But Kathleen Clark, a law professor who specialises in government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, told USA Today it did not break any laws.

It is not clear if the hotel is being paid to host the event.

Republican National Committee officials were expecting to raise about $10m, with about 300 places available.

Not all the money raised will go towards the Trump 2020 campaign – some will go to other Republican Party causes.

It is unusual for a president to raise cash for re-election so early in his first term, only five months since the former property developer took office.

“Of course he is running for re-election,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Wednesday.

Reporters were barred from attending the event.

The president has previously been criticised for entertaining foreign leaders at another of his properties in Florida.

A lawsuit filed in June argued President Trump was “flagrantly violating the constitution” by accepting payments from foreign governments, a charge the White House has strongly denied.

[BBC]

Trump will hold fundraiser at his own hotel in D.C.

President Trump has chosen his Washington hotel as the site for a fundraiser that could be used to benefit him and other Republicans.

Campaign director Michael Glassner confirmed the location to The Associated Press on Wednesday. He calls it a premier and convenient choice. The Tuesday fundraiser in Washington will be for larger donors.

Mr. Trump officially kicked off his re-election campaign on Inauguration Day by filing Federal Election Commission paperwork, making it the earliest such effort by a sitting president. But Mr. Trump has not officially announced his candidacy, and in a letter accompanying his filing, he wrote it did “not constitute a formal announcement of my candidacy for the 2020 election.”

Through the end of March, Mr. Trump’s campaign had raised more than $7 million through small donor appeals and the sale of merchandise. The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee will share proceeds.

The Trump Organization completed a $200 million renovation of the government property weeks before Election Day. Trump has since distanced himself from the finances of the hotel, but critics say conflicts remain.

The venue poses possible ethical and legal questions for Mr. Trump, and is sure to raise questions from Democrats who continue to question the intersection of government and Mr. Trump’s business ventures.

Mr. Trump’s hotel, located just blocks from the White House also on Pennsylvania Avenue, opened shortly before the 2016 election. Mr. Trump has said he would donate proceeds from foreign officials to charity, but the White House and the Trump Organization have yet to release any details of that plan. The Department of Justice is arguing in court that the president is not violating the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution by accepting foreign payments.

Earlier this year, Ivanka Trump, who works as an assistant to her father and plays a prominent role in the White House, told “CBS This Morning” she manages any “conflict” that arises with the hotel.

Other details of the fundraiser have yet to be released publicly.

In some ways, Mr. Trump hasn’t stopped campaigning. On his 100th day in office, he held a campaign-style rally in Pennsylvania. Wednesday night, he will make an appearance in Iowa for a rally.

[CBS News]

Oil Lobby Met With Trump Interior Secretary at Trump Hotel

The oil industry’s most powerful lobbying group met on March 23 with President Trump’s interior secretary at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. It also happened to be the same day the administration killed a rule that oil companies opposed.

The location of the meeting is raising eyebrows and ethical questions. The Trump International Hotel, situated just blocks from the White House, is ground zero for companies and foreign leaders who may be trying to cozy up to the president by using his properties, critics and ethics experts fear.

“It creates the appearance they are currying favor” by staying at a Trump hotel, said Lawrence Noble, general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog.

Noble, a CNN contributor, said while the meeting may not violate specific ethics rules, it shows that companies have discovered a “not-so-subtle way of showing support for the president.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke addressed the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) board of directors on that day at the Trump International Hotel, according to Zinke’s recently-released schedule.

Zinke, a strong advocate of the oil industry, spoke for 10 minutes, and then held a brief question-and-answer session, the Interior Department confirmed in a statement to CNNMoney.

That same day, the Interior Department announced plans to get rid of an Obama-era rule toughening standards on how much fossil fuel companies owe the government for drilling and mining on federal land. The energy industry had fought the rule. The oil industry group had even filed a lawsuit against it in December 2016.

The very next day, on March 24, the API put out a statement saying it was “pleased” by the Interior Department’s decision to get rid of the rule’s “substantial burdens.”

The Interior Department defended Zinke’s appearance at the API event.

“Like many secretaries before him, the Secretary was invited to speak at API’s meeting and he accepted the invitation. There is nothing unusual about a secretary speaking to stakeholders,” Heather Swift, a spokesperson for the department, said in a statement.

Swift said Zinke spoke about his “goals for the Department of the Interior and American energy.”

The Interior Department’s ethics office said it had “thoroughly vetted” Zinke’s API meeting. “We found that it presented no ethics violation or conflict of interest,” the ethics office said.

Noble, the ethics expert, agrees that meeting with an industry group “in and of itself is not unusual” as long as Zinke didn’t insist the gathering take place at a Trump hotel. There’s no evidence that Zinke picked the location of the API meeting.

It’s not clear how much the API spent on holding the meeting at the Trump International Hotel. Events at the hotel likely cost at least $100,000, The Washington Post has previously reported.

Neither the API nor the Trump Organization responded to requests for comment.

Zinke’s schedule doesn’t indicate who attended the meeting with API, which is chaired by ConocoPhillips (COP) CEO Ryan Lance.

The Trump International Hotel, which opened last September on the grounds of a renovated post office, has been a lightning rod for controversy. The Trump Organization rents space for the hotel from the General Services Administration, an agency of the Untied States government.

As president, Trump oversees the GSA, which makes him effectively both landlord and tenant.

Critics have argued the hotel violates the lease terms because there is a clause saying no government official can be a party to the 60-year lease that was signed in 2013.

In March, the federal government ruled that the hotel is not in violation of its lease. The GSA cited Trump’s decision to transfer control of his vast business empire to his sons and a Trump Organization executive.

However, Trump is still the ultimate beneficiary of the success of the company and the hotel.

Noble said there’s an easy way to resolve concerns about such conflicts involving Trump’s hotel.

“Just decide you won’t do any government business at the president’s hotel. Set a rule,” he said.

[CNN]

President Trump’s Hotel Received $270,000 from Saudi Arabia

The Trump International Hotel recently took in about $270,000 in payments tied to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the country fights to roll back a U.S. terrorism law, according to newly filed lobbying reports.

The spending, which covered lodging, catering and parking expenses, was disclosed in Justice Department filings last week by MSL Group Americas, a public relations firm. The filings detailed the work the firm engaged in between Oct. 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017 on behalf of the Saudis, Bahrain and other foreign governments.

In a statement Monday night, Trump Organization officials said they would donate any profits from the transactions at the end of the year.

The disclosure of Saudi spending, however, could spark fresh debate about President Trump’s decision to retain ownership of his real-estate and branding empire while serving in the White House. Trump turned over management of his companies to his adult sons and a veteran Trump Organization executive but still can benefit financially from his business interests.

Last month, Trump visited Saudi Arabia, the first stop on the first foreign trip of his presidency

The firm reported paying more than $190,200 for lodging, $78,204 for catering and roughly $1,600 for parking at the Trump International Hotel in Washington — part of a larger campaign by the Saudis that brought U.S. military veterans to the nation’s capital to lobby against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act or JASTA. The Daily Caller first reported on the hotel payments.

Last year, Congress passed a bill over President Obama’s veto that would allow families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any alleged role in the plot. The Gulf nation has denied any role in the attacks and is lobbying to ease the law’s provisions.

Democrats on Capitol Hill and ethics watchdogs have argued that Trump’s continued ownership of his businesses could lead to a violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bars foreign payments to U.S. officials without congressional approval.

White House officials referred questions about the Saudi payments to the Trump Organization.

Before he took office, Trump pledged to donate foreign profits from his hotels to the U.S. Treasury. However, the Trump Organization is not trying to comprehensively identify all foreign profits to its hotel business, according to a company policy document recently provided to the House Oversight Committee.

“To fully and completely identify all patronage at our properties by customer type is impractical in the service industry and putting forth a policy that requires all guests to identify themselves would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand,” the Trump Organization’s document said.

[USA Today]

Saudi Arabia, UAE Pledge $100 Million to Ivanka Trump’s Ethically Questionable Fund

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged $100 million to the World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Fund, an initiative proposed by first daughter and senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump. The fund, which was first announced in April, has already raised serious legal and ethical questions about how a White House adviser can both shape foreign policy and actively solicit donations from foreign countries for the fund.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the initiative would provide technical assistance and investments for projects that support the economic empowerment of women around the globe. Ivanka Trump does not control the money, though she first pitched the idea to World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and has discussed the idea with leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Sunday, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim praised “Ivanka’s leadership” in spearheading the fund, and called it “a stunning achievement.”

President Donald Trump was extremely critical of Saudi Arabia’s contributions to the Clinton Foundation while campaigning against Hillary Clinton, going so far as to call for Clinton to return all the money given to the foundation, both in speeches on the campaign trail and during the October presidential debate.

“You talk about women and women’s rights. These are people that push gays off business — off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly, and yet you take their money,” Trump said during the debate. “So I’d like to ask you right now. Why don’t you give back the money that you’ve taken from certain countries that treat certain groups of people so horribly? Why don’t you give back the money. I think it would be a great gesture.”

The Clinton Foundation has received between $10 million and $25 million from Saudi Arabia. A foundation spokesperson said during the campaign that the foundation did not accept any donations from Saudi Arabia while Clinton was Secretary of State. Trump also accused the foundation of “pay-to-play” schemes during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.

He has not, however, spoken about the legal and ethical concerns associated with Ivanka Trump’s World Bank initiative. Since Ivanka works as a senior adviser in the White House, it’s possible that she could be involved with foreign policy decisions relating to the countries that have donated to the fund. It’s not illegal or unprecedented for presidents or their families to engage in philanthropy while in the White House, but such efforts are required to go through a lengthy approval process to ensure that there is no sort of special access or influence given in exchange for donations.

“The approval process is elaborate, because of the many risks, including illegal quid pro quos when the private partners contribute large sums of money. Then there is the risk of giving those partners special access and influence, which is wrong and in some cases illegal,” Norm Eisen, Chief Ethics Counsel for Barack Obama told ThinkProgress via email when the World Bank first announced the fund in April.

During her visit to Saudi Arabia, Ivanka Trump also met with Saudi women, including business leaders and government officials, to discuss “women’s economic empowerment.” Trump is in the country as part of her father’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is an extremely oppressive society for women, who are not allowed to drive, and must obtain permission from a male “guardian” in order to travel or marry.

In the meeting, Trump called Saudi Arabia’s progress on women’s rights “encouraging.”

According to the Washington Post, Trump’s meeting was met with some criticism from Saudi Arabian activists. “If Ivanka is interested in women empowerment and human rights, she should see activists, and not just officials,” Aziza al-Yousef, a 58-year-old activist who has campaigned to end the country’s guardianship rules, said.

[Think Progress]

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