Tourists who visit Washington, D.C. have limited options on what they can enjoy in the nation’s capital with the partial government shutdown underway. But one thing they can do is go visit the historic clock tower at the Trump International Hotel. It isn’t really the most popular tourist attraction but, hey, considering the Smithsonian museums are closed it’s at least something. And any visitor who decides to venture to the 315-foot-high clock tower will be greeted by National Park Service rangers, who are working normally despite the shutdown.
The General Services Administration, which leases the building to the Trump Organization, insists that the fact that the 120-year-old clock tower is open now has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it houses a hotel with the president’s name on it. Whether that’s true or not, it feels like something that could help the president make some money is getting preferential treatment. At the very least, “the Trump administration appears to have gone out of its way to keep the attraction in the federally owned building that houses the Trump hotel open and staffed with National Park Service rangers, even as other federal agencies shut all but the most essential services,” as the Associated Press puts it.
The Trump International Hotel touts the “panoramic views of the capital city” from the Clock Tower as one of the “highlights” of the property. That “highlight” appears to be getting busier than normal these days as “tour operators figure it out,” one ranger said.
Some are starting to ask questions. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to try to understand why the clock tower was open. “At the very least, this smells funny,” Noah Bookbinder, the group’s executive director, said.
The tower hasn’t stayed open throughout the shutdown. But it reopened its doors this past week. When asked for an explanation, the GSA said in a statement to the Hill that “the funds needed to operate the Old Post Office tower are not associated with the current fiscal year’s (FY 2019) appropriations bill.” The Hill was asking for comment on a report by E&E News regarding the reopening of the Clock Tower.
It isn’t just watchdog groups that are sensing some possible impropriety. Rep. Bill Pascrell from New Jersey took to Twitter raise his suspicions that tax dollars were being used to benefit the president’s pocket. “The Trump admin is using your tax dollars to keep an @NPS site at his luxury hotel open while the rest of Americans are wading through garbage and locked gates,” he tweeted earlier in the week. “The corruption and disgrace of this govt are without bottom.”
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