Follow the emoluments money
Good investigators have a saying: There's no such thing as coincidence.
With that truism, it's interesting that the Trump family, after three years of controversy, criticism and legal fights, is considering selling its Trump International Hotel in the U.S.-owned historic Washington, D.C., post office building a few blocks from the White House.
The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported Friday that the move is motivated partly by criticism that the Trumps are flouting government ethics laws by profiting from the property. Eric Trump, an executive vice president of the Trump Organization, told the Journal that the family business has hired a real estate firm to market the rights to the hotel.
"Since we opened our doors, we have received tremendous interest in this hotel and as real-estate developers, we are always willing to explore our options," Eric Trump said in a statement. "People are objecting to us making so much money on the hotel, and therefore we may be willing to sell."
Any transfer of the hotel lease would have to be approved by the federal General Services Administration, which awarded the deal to the Trump Organization after a competition among various bidders. That, of course, makes Donald Trump his own landlord. But that's just one small piece of this controversy. The hotel is a key part of lawsuits pending against the Trump Organization by at least three groups that argue the president is violating the Constitution by accepting payments from foreign governments that book rooms, dinners and parties there to curry to the president's favor.
Our country's framers set out in the U.S. Constitution prohibitions against a president profiting from foreign and domestic gifts, which they called "emoluments." Trump scoffs at it: "You people with this phony emoluments clause," the president said to reporters last week.
The Times reports that the Trump family has tried to address the conflict by sending an annual payment to the Treasury of what it says are any profits from foreign governments. The Trumps have said that profit totaled about $191,538 last year at the Washington hotel and other properties it owns. That was up from $151,470 the year before.
Doesn't it make you wonder about the very stable genius of a business that made less than $200,000 in foreign profit from a jewel of a hotel steps from the White House — "and other properties" — where anyone who wants to impress the president stays and dines and parties?
And speaking of coincidences, on Thursday, OpenSecrets.org released a new report on political spending at Trump properties. The review found that federal political committees — forget foreign dignitaries for a moment — have spent more than $20 million at businesses owned by President Trump since the 2008 political cycle. What's more, 99 percent of that $20 million came since the start of the 2016 cycle when Trump announced his bid for president and began spending campaign money at his own properties.
OpenSecrets says that Trump campaign-affiliated committees have funneled about $16.8 million to Trump-owned businesses. The group's review also found that the bulk of the spending at Trump properties came from Trump-related campaign events.
Trump supporter: Does it bother you at all that the $100 or $1,000 or whatever amount you donated to a Trump campaign buys a balloon or two and a rubber chicken dinner then goes straight to Trump's pocket?
Americans: Does it bother you at all that the president calls any part of the U.S. Constitution "phony"?
Go to here to read the report.
Trump defenders going quiet?
The Washington Post on Friday characterized Republican efforts to defend President Trump from the impeachment inquiry as "flailing." The Post's reasoning came from the shift some key members of the Senate seem to be showing — going from implicitly defending Trump to acknowledging that recent congressional testimony in the closed-door impeachment inquiry meetings has been damaging to Trump.
"This suggests conviction of Trump in the Republican-controlled Senate, should the House impeach him, isn't a door that's entirely slammed shut," the Post wrote.
When facts failed the GOP last week, its members resorted to circus — er, political — stunts.
On Wednesday, about 30 Republicans made sure they had plenty of press coverage as they crashed a testimony meeting in the secure room in the Capitol's basement. The Republicans demanded to be let into an inquiry that most of them didn't have a right to be a part of — even if the hearings were public. The meetings aren't public at this point in the inquiry. For now, they are the equivalent of a grand jury setting.
And for the record, the committees handling impeachment are not made up only of Democrats. There also are Republicans on those committees, though few of them have taken advantage of their full and complete right to be present for the meetings.
Once the circus was over Wednesday (it ended shortly after Republicans realized they were violating strict Capitol security rules by bringing hackable phones into a secure area), the hearing with a Pentagon official who oversaw the Ukraine aid started up again.