President Donald Trump’s company says it will be “impractical” to single out individual foreign guests as part of its plan to donate foreign government profits to the Treasury Department, sparking a complaint from a top House Democrat who says the plan may violate a constitutional block on such payments to presidents.
Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had pressed the Trump Organization in April for more information on the profit arrangement, and in return they got a copy of a nine-page pamphlet the company distributed to a range of senior Trump employees who handle everything from property management to sales, food and beverage and human resources.
The glossy pamphlet – which includes images of Trump-branded hotels in Washington and Chicago, as well as one of its iconic Miami golf courses – goes into detail about how the company would be using hospitality industry standards for accounting and financial reporting as it comes up with a total dollar figure for profits earned from foreign governments. As president, Trump—who remains owner of the Trump Organization—is prohibited from receiving such payments, known as emoluments.
But it also explains that there will be a limit on whose payments to Trump properties would go into the totals.
“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 said. “It is not the intention nor design of this policy for our Properties to attempt to identify individual travels who have not specifically identified themselves as being a representative of a foreign government entity on foreign government business.”
Trump and his lawyers didn’t mention the difficulty of breaking out such payments when they first outlined their ethics plan in January just weeks before the presidential inauguration. The concern also didn’t make it into a statement the company released in March when it first started publicly describing how it wouldn’t be making its first donation until 2018.
According to the pamphlet, the Trump Organization’s accounting of foreign government payments also won’t cover profits earned by owners of condominium-hotel units in Trump-managed properties because “those profits belong to the individual condominium-unit owners.”
Trump officials relayed details of its voluntary policy to its employees at each hotel, golf and social club, as well as its winery outside Charlottesville, Virginia, in an April 11 email from Chief Compliance Counsel George Sorial. They explained that the policy – with two follow-up training sessions for employees – went into effect upon Trump’s inauguration as president on Jan. 20.
“Please review and adhere to this important internal policy and be sure to share it only with your team members as appropriate. The policy makes very clear the scope and sources by which properties shall identify foreign government patronage,” Sorial wrote.
The Trump Organization’s donation policy has been under close scrutiny on Capitol Hill since Trump in January first outlined how he’d arrange his private business enterprise while serving in the White House – maintaining ownership but handing over daily duties to his adult sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, as well as longtime executives.
Senate Democrats last week sent their own letter to Trump company officials demanding more details of the company’s operations since January. But it was Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who led the request for information on the president’s profit donation policy that yielded the company sharing its pamphlet and other internal materials.
Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who plans to leave Congress next month, well before his term expires, didn’t publicly release the Trump Organization’s documents. Instead, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who had joined in the initial information request as the committee’s ranking member released the materials and sent his own letter Wednesday back to Trump Organization officials saying that he’s still not satisfied with the information it has shared.
“Unfortunately, your meager response does not include the vast majority of documents we requested in our letter,” Cummings wrote. Citing Trump’s own words when he announced the ethics plan at the January press conference in Trump Tower, Cummings added, “This pamphlet raises grave concerns about the President’s refusal to comply with the Constitution merely because he believes it is ‘impractical’ and could ‘diminish the guest experience of our brand.’”
“Complying with the United States Constitution is not an optional exercise, but a requirement for serving as our nation’s President,” Cummings added. “If President Trump believes that identifying all of the prohibited foreign emoluments he is currently receiving would be too challenging or would harm his business ventures, his options are to divest his ownership or submit a proposal to Congress to ask for our consent.”
Chaffetz and Cummings had also asked the Trump Organization for a more complete account of how it would track and publicly report the donations to the Treasury, as well as whether donations would be claimed by the company as tax deduction gifts. And they asked for documents showing which Trump properties would be donating profits from foreign government sources.
But in his May 11 reply to the lawmakers, Sorial explained that those details aren’t ready for release yet.
“We believe it is premature to respond at this time insofar as final determinations regarding these matters are dependent on many factors that will not be known to [the Trump Organization] until after the close of this year,” Sorial wrote.
Cummings also criticized the Trump Organization for failing to brief lawmakers on their profit policy by a May 19 deadline that the lawmakers originally gave. The Democrat asked the company to schedule that meeting by June 2.
The Trump Organization and Chaffetz’s office did not respond to requests for comment on Cummings’ letter.