Abu Dhabi’s tourism office, which has been cited as a potential conflict of interest between President Donald Trump and his businesses, vacated its Trump Tower quarters days after the president was sworn into office.
The Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority moved out on Jan. 31, about a week after a government watchdog accused the president of profiting from foreign governments that do business with the Trump Organization, the family operation now run by the president’s sons.
Paul McDonagh, U.S. manager of Abu Dhabi’s tourism operations, said the decision to move was made last summer, months before a lease expired and well before the world thought Trump would be elected.
“We had to give the Trump Organization six months’ notice,” McDonagh told POLITICO. “That was even before the election happened.”
The White House referred questions about the move, which was previously unreported, to the Trump Organization. Trump Organization spokeswoman Amanda Miller did not respond to requests for comment.
The tourism authority noted its change of address in foreign agency registration filings. The move had nothing to do with Trump, the lawsuit or bad press, McDonagh said. The Trump Organization played no role in the decision, he said.
At the time it wasn’t “a big deal to announce it anywhere" except with the agency’s travel industry contacts, McDonagh said.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sued Trump on Jan. 23, accusing him of violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which forbids a president from receiving fees, income or gifts from foreign governments.
The original CREW complaint and an amended version filed May 10 cite lease payments from the tourism authority as an example of potential emoluments violations. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and the city’s tourism and culture authority is a government enterprise.
“Defendant’s business interests are creating countless conflicts of interest, as well as unprecedented influence by foreign governments,” CREW lawyers wrote in their lawsuit. “Private financial interests can subtly sway even the most virtuous leaders, and entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious threat to the Republic.”
CREW said Monday it was watching the situation.
“We’re monitoring reports on this lease by Abu Dhabi and on all potential prohibited payments to Trump,” CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz wrote in an email. “Trump is accepting prohibited emoluments from a number of sources, and it is likely that he is accepting many more payments than what we, and the American people, know about.”
Abu Dhabi’s Trump Tower office opened with great fanfare in May 2012. Tourism ads lit up Times Square, where a massive tent treated passersby to a velvet-draped taste of the United Arab Emirates capital, complete with Bedouin-style sofas, incense and live falcons.
Trump’s company wanted Abu Dhabi to renew its 3,000-square-foot lease, but a decision had already been made back home that the tourism authority would share offices with Etihad Airways, UAE’s second-largest carrier, McDonagh said. Abu Dhabi tourism offices in other countries also are moving to share space with the airline, he said.
“That’s really the truth of it all,” McDonagh said. “It really has to do with cost-saving.”
The tourism authority’s starting rent was between $80 and $83 a square foot, according to CompStak, a commercial real estate data provider based in New York.
For now, McDonagh’s team is camped at a temporary workspace on Fifth Avenue until it can move into its new office with Etihad.