Nadler & Blumenthal Demand President Trump Fully Disclose Saudi Government Payments his Businesses Have Accepted During his Presidency

Oct 19, 2018 Issues: Trump

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to President Donald Trump to demand answers about payments the President and the Trump Organization have accepted from the Saudi royal family and government during the President’s time in office, in clear violation of the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause.    

Nadler and Blumenthal are leading a group of nearly 200 members of Congress suing President Trump to hold him accountable to the Emoluments Clause, the Constitution’s chief anti-corruption provision, which requires presidents to seek Congressional approval before accepting benefits from foreign governments. In September, a U.S. District Judge ruled in favor of the Members, stating that they have standing to sue President Trump because he has deprived each of the plaintiffs of their right, explicitly guaranteed by the Foreign Emoluments Clause, to vote on whether the President may accept foreign government benefits before he accepts them.  That important ruling makes it possible for the Members to hold President Trump accountable for the full range of his Foreign Emoluments Clause violations—not only those connected with the Trump Hotel in D.C., but also those connected with Trump properties and business ventures elsewhere in the country and abroad.

“It appears Saudi princes and the Saudi government have provided you and The Trump Organization with infusions of cash since the 1990s,” Blumenthal and Nadler wrote.  “As President, you continue to accept payments from the Saudi government: in 2017, a lobbying firm working for the Saudi government spent $270,000 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C.;  in 2018, the Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York City and in Chicago received ‘an influx of visitors from Saudi Arabia’ that mitigated significant losses and boosted quarterly revenues.’  In fact, The Trump Organization, told investors that ‘their losses [have] been cushioned, partly by new customers from overseas,’ specifically by the Saudis.  In March 2018, travelers accompanying the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia stayed at the Trump International Hotel in New York; their five-day stay ‘was enough to boost the hotel’s revenue for the entire quarter.’”

Nadler and Blumenthal also blasted the inadequacy of steps the President has taken to insulate himself from foreign conflicts of interest, including his previous commitment to donate “all profits from foreign governments’ patronage.” This commitment fails to bring the President into compliance with the Emoluments Clause, and also creates a loophole that allows President Trump to benefit from Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments without transparency or accountability. 

“In response to widespread outrage from the American people about your failure to comply with the Foreign Emoluments Clause, you announced shortly before your inauguration that you would ‘donate all profits from foreign governments’ patronage of [your] hotels and similar businesses during [your] presidential term to the U.S. Treasury.’ This plan does not even purport to address foreign government benefits that you receive that are not the result of ‘foreign governments’ patronage of [your] hotels and similar businesses during [your] presidential term,’” wrote Blumenthal and Nadler.  “Moreover, this approach leaves you free to continue accepting massive benefits from Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments without transparency or accountability.  After all, it is The Trump Organization’s stated position to donate only profits, not revenue. In other words, The Trump Organization created a glaring loophole: Unless a particular Trump property is making a profit, revenue generated from foreign government patronage will not be donated to the U.S. Treasury. Rather, The Trump Organization (and you and your family) retains the benefit, while the American people never see a penny.”                                           

The full letter is available here and pasted below.

October 19, 2018

Dear President Trump:

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has incensed both the American people and people around the world. Mr. Khashoggi, an American resident and a journalist for The Washington Post, disappeared two weeks ago in Istanbul after he was allegedly “lured into the Saudi consulate . . . then murdered and dismembered by a team dispatched by the Saudi royal court.”[1]

In light of these events, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for a reevaluation of our nation’s relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Other world leaders have joined us in demanding an open investigation into this murder and the Saudi government’s involvement with it. Unfortunately, your public comments have demonstrated a willingness to give undue credence to the Saudi government’s unbelievable stories and denials. Your Administration’s response calls into question whether you are acting based on the American public’s interests or your own private interests. Moreover, it appears that the steps you have taken to insulate yourself from foreign conflicts of interest are more limited and less adequate than previously understood. We write to request additional information about your ongoing personal enrichment from Saudi government payments.

It appears Saudi princes and the Saudi government have provided you and The Trump Organization with infusions of cash since the 1990s.[2] These include, among other things, your sale of a yacht in 1991 to a Saudi Prince, the sale in 2001 of an entire floor of Trump World Tower to Saudis, your statement in June 2015 that “I love the Saudis … many in Trump Tower, and your statement in August 2015 that the Saudis “buy apartments from me … Spend $40 million -- $50 million.[3]  As President, you continue to accept payments from the Saudi government: in 2017, a lobbying firm working for the Saudi government spent $270,000 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C.;[4] in 2018, the Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York City and in Chicago received “an influx of visitors from Saudi Arabia” that mitigated significant losses and boosted quarterly revenues.[5]

In fact, The Trump Organization, told investors that “their losses [have] been cushioned, partly by new customers from overseas,” specifically by the Saudis.[6] In March 2018, travelers accompanying the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia stayed at the Trump International Hotel in New York; their five-day stay “was enough to boost the hotel’s revenue for the entire quarter.”[7] Similarly, “Saudi-based customers . . . booked 218 nights” at the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago, representing a 169% increase in bookings from the same period in 2016.[8] And these are just the payments we know about – those revealed due to the hard work of American journalists.

Given your ongoing refusal to disclose your foreign emoluments or to obtain Congressional approval before accepting them – as required by the Constitution – the American people do not know the full scope of benefits you and The Trump Organization have received and continue to receive from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments. The Trump Organization has made clear that it has no “intention . . . to attempt to identify individual travelers who have not specifically identified themselves as being a representative of a foreign government entity on foreign government business” because “[t]o fully and completely identify all patronage . . . by customer type is impractical.”[9]

In response to widespread outrage from the American people about your failure to comply with the Foreign Emoluments Clause, you announced shortly before your inauguration that you would “donate all profits from foreign governments’ patronage of [your] hotels and similar businesses during [your] presidential term to the U.S. Treasury.”[10] In response to a letter that Senator Blumenthal sent on February 26, 2018, The Trump Organization cited this announcement as a solution to the legal and ethical problems created by its receipt of foreign benefits.[11]

This plan does not even purport to address foreign government benefits that you receive that are not the result of “foreign governments’ patronage of [your] hotels and similar businesses during [your] presidential term.”  Moreover, this approach leaves you free to continue accepting massive benefits from Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments without transparency or accountability.  After all, it is The Trump Organization’s stated position to donate only profits, not revenue.[12] In other words, The Trump Organization created a glaring loophole: Unless a particular Trump property is making a profit, revenue generated from foreign government patronage will not be donated to the U.S. Treasury. Rather, The Trump Organization (and you and your family) retains the benefit, while the American people never see a penny.

Because of the widespread concern that your receipt of foreign emoluments from the Saudi Arabian government may be influencing the manner in which your Administration is responding to the horrific killing of Jamal Khashoggi, we would ask that you answer the following questions.

1.      On February 26, 2018, The Trump Organization announced that it made its first “voluntary” donation of profits it received from foreign governments.[13] On March 9, 2018, the Trump Organization disclosed how much that it donated $151,470.

a.       From which Trump Organization properties was the $151,470 derived?
b.      From which foreign government patrons was the $151,470 derived?

2.      Which properties owned and managed by The Trump Organization generated revenue, but not an overall “Property Profit” in 2017?

a.       Of those properties, did any generate revenue, in whole or in part, from foreign government patronage? If so, please identify the specific property and the foreign government patron.
b.      Using the methodology outlined in The Trump Organization’s “Donation of Profits from Foreign Government Patronage Policy,” what revenue was derived from the foreign government patrons at the properties identified above?
c.       Was any of that revenue derived from foreign government patronage donated to the United States Treasury in 2017?

3.      Press reports indicate that, in 2018, there has been significant foreign government patronage at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., the Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York City and in Chicago, and Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.

a.       What percentage of the revenue at these Trump Organization properties can be attributed to foreign government patronage? Please identify the specific property; the foreign government patron; and the amount of revenue generated from each foreign government.
b.      Are there other Trump Organization properties that have derived revenue from foreign government patronage? Please identify the specific property; the foreign government patron; and the revenue generated per foreign government patron.
c.       What percentage of that revenue does The Trump Organization intend or expect to donate to the United States Treasury?

This is an urgent and important matter, and we respectfully ask that you provide answers to my questions as soon as possible, and in no event later than by close of business on November 1, 2018. Please contact Sam Simon at Sam_Simon@judiciary-dem.senate.gov or 202-224-6724 with any questions. Thank you in advance for your timely and thorough response.


[1] Joel Simon, What Makes Jamal Khashoggi’s Alleged Murder So Depraved, Washington Post (Oct. 11, 2018), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jamal-khashoggis-alleged-murder-represents-a-new-kind-of-depravity/2018/10/11/38a0f784-cd89-11e8-920f-dd52e1ae4570_story.html?utm_term=.581549131c5a.

[2] David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell, ‘I Like Them Very Much:’ Trump Has Long-Standing Business Ties With Saudis, Who Have Boosted His Hotels Since He Took Office, Washington Post (Oct. 11, 2018), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/i-like-them-very-much-trump-has-long-standing-business-ties-with-saudis-who-have-boosted-his-hotels-since-he-took-office/2018/10/11/0870df24-cd67-11e8-a360-85875bac0b1f_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a34c31239fe2.

[3] Fox News Research (@FoxNewsResearch), Twitter, October 16, 2018, 9:10 AM.

[4] See generally Gabriel Florit, Jonathan O’Connell, David A. Fahrenthold, and Teddy Amenbar, Tracking Who Is Spending Money at President Trump’s D.C. Hotel, Washington Post (last updated May 4, 2018), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/politics/trump-hotel-events/?utm_term=.8d321112b789.

[5] See David A. Fahrenthold, Jonathan O’Connell, and Morgan Krakow, At Trump’s Big-City Hotels, Business Dropped as His Political Star Rose, Internal Documents Show, Washington Post (Oct. 4, 2018), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/at-trumps-big-city-hotels-business-dropped-as-his-political-star-rose-internal-documents-show/2018/10/03/bd26b1d6-b6d4-11e8-a7b5-adaaa5b2a57f_story.html?utm_term=.14adbe6fcab1 [hereinafter At Trump’s Big-City Hotels].

[6] At Trump’s Big City Hotels, supra note 6.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] The Trump Organization, Trump: Donation of Profits from Foreign Government Patronage at p. 4 (May 2017), available at https://democrats-oversight.house.gov/sites/democrats.oversight.house.gov/files/documents/ Trump%20Org%20Pamphlet%20on%20Foreign%20Profits.pdf [hereinafter Donation of Profits from Foreign Government Patronage].

[10] Press Conference, White Paper: Conflicts of Interest and the President, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP at p. 6 (Jan. 11, 2017), available at https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3280261/MLB-White-Paper-1-10-Pm.pdf.

[11] Letter to Senator Blumenthal from The Trump Organization (April 6, 2018).

[12] Donation of Profits from Foreign Government Patronage, supra note 7, at pp. 2-3, 7-8.

[13] David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell, Trump Organization Says It Has Donated Profits to U.S. Treasury, But Declines to Share Details, Washington Post (Feb, 26, 2018), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-organization-says-it-has-donated-foreign-profits-to-us-treasury-but-declines-to-share-details/2018/02/26/747522e0-1b22-11e8-ae5a-16e60e4605f3_story.html?utm_term=.09baee11d779.

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