The Trumps’ desire to profit off the presidency was clear even before the family patriarch was sworn in. What remained less clear, however, was just how much money they’d be able to funnel into their own bank accounts and those of their business partners. A full accounting of their enrichment is currently impossible, but on Wednesday the Washington Post published a key data point:
The State Department spent more than $15,000 to book 19 rooms at the new Trump hotel in Vancouver when members of President Trump’s family headlined the grand opening of the tower in late February. … The department’s expenditures reflect a total of 56 nights booked at the Trump hotel in Vancouver. Four rooms were booked for seven nights, while the remaining rooms were booked for either one or two nights.
As the paper noted, those numbers, which the newspaper obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, represents “the first evidence of State Department expenditures at a Trump-branded property since President Trump took office in January.”
What separates this particular con from the rest of the president’s ongoing graft is that, as opposed to using the White House as a branding tool or pressuring domestic lobbyists and foreign diplomats to stay in his D.C. hotel, here we have the president lining his pockets with money provided by American taxpayers.
The Trumps banked this cash, perversely, because the president’s family—two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, their spouses, and the president’s younger daughter, Tiffany—decided to drop by for the grand opening of a Trump-branded property. The $15,000 figure might not sound like all that much, but consider that this doesn’t include money spent by the Secret Service to house its personnel, who traveled to Canada to protect the Trumps. The Secret Service has a policy against disclosing the logistics of its security operations, but it stands to reason the agency’s hotel bill in Vancouver was many times higher than that of the State Department, since the latter normally plays only a support role on these kinds of trips. Earlier this year, for example, the two agencies together spent nearly $100,000 on lodging in Uruguay when Eric Trump made a pre-inauguration promotional trip to a Trump-branded property. The State Department’s portion of the bill was roughly $10,000, while the Secret Service was responsible for the rest. That’s money that taxpayers never would have had to spend if the Trumps had divested themselves of their conflict-rich business, or if Eric would have simply stayed home.
The president and his family don’t actually own the Vancouver hotel, but they make money off the licensing of the Trump name and from managing the property. According to the president’s most recent financial disclosure, he earned more than $5 million in royalties from the Vancouver hotel between Jan. 1, 2016, and April 15, 2017. For competitive reasons, businesses do their best to keep the specifics of such licensing deals private, but court records have shown that Trump has struck deals connected to similar properties in which his pay was tied to the project’s success. What’s good for Trump-Vancouver, then, is most likely good for the president—and certainly good for his business partners who do own the hotel. And that’s without factoring in the free (for the hotel) media attention Trump and co. got thanks to the unofficial-but-unmistakable imprimatur of the presidency that came via the presence of the president’s children, the State Department, and the Secret Service.
The Vancouver trip isn’t a one-off incident—it’s simply one of the first times we’ve been able to find a (partial) price tag for one of these trips. Don Jr. and Eric have made other jaunts abroad while accompanied by their Secret Service details, and likely State Department support staff, including to Dubai and Ireland. And the pair have nothing on their stepmother Melania, who spent the first months of the administration in Trump Tower in New York City surrounded by taxpayer-funded security, or their father, who spends his free time—and some of his definitely-not-free time—at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida and at his other domestic commercial properties. Each of those moves almost certainly boosted the Trumps’ bank accounts thanks to the hotel fees, rentals, and leases Trump’s own government had to pay to keep their people close.
Members of the first family have long received Secret Service protection, which means taxpayers by necessity pay when one of them travels abroad. But what makes this Vancouver trip different is that it was designed for the benefit of the Trump Organization. This was a trip taken both literally and figuratively in Donald Trump’s name, and for Donald Trump’s personal profit. And yet it was taxpayers who were left to foot part of the bill.