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Trump’s company officially halts hotel expansion

Members of the Trump family attend President Trump’s State of the Union address Feb. 5 in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol.
Members of the Trump family attend President Trump’s State of the Union address Feb. 5 in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

President Trump’s company officially shelved plans to create two hotel chains aimed at reaching customers mostly in places where the president has become politically popular.

The president’s eldest sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, who took over the company when Trump entered the White House, cited political attacks and negative media coverage in announcing the decision.

The brothers announced plans for the two lower-cost chains in a reception at Trump Tower shortly after Trump took office. Since then, the company has come under near-constant scrutiny from ethics officials and congressional Democrats over its business practices. After saying the company had dozens of deals in the works, the brothers have not opened the hotels, which were to be named Scion and American Idea.

“We live in a climate where everything will be used against us, whether by the fake news or by Democrats who are only interested in Presidential harassment and wasting everyone’s time,” Eric Trump said in a statement Thursday.

The decision marked the first voluntary step back for the company since Trump took office.

When it launched the brands, the company announced that the first Scion and American Idea hotels would be in the Mississippi Delta, through a partnership with Mississippi businessman Dinesh Chawla and his brother, Suresh.

The Chawlas, owners of 18 hotels in the Gulf Coast region, are developing a 100-room hotel and conference center on 17 acres in Cleveland, Miss. The project is expected to cost the family more than $20 million and was to be the nation’s first Scion before the Trump Organization cut ties with the family this week.

Reached by phone, Dinesh Chawla declined to comment. But in a Facebook post Thursday, he said the company was fine financially, that the project would proceed and that he remained friends with the Trumps.

“We were together for two years, but I learned so much from them,” Chawla wrote. “I’m sorry that they are not with us anymore legally, but we are partners of a different sort — spiritually on this project.”

In their statement, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump said that they enjoyed working with the Chawlas and that “their hotel in Cleveland will be an absolutely spectacular project.”

In December, Dinesh Chawla said two of his family’s Mississippi hotels, a Comfort Inn in Clarksdale and a Rodeway Inn in Greenville, were being renovated and were on pace to open this spring or summer as the country’s first American Idea hotels. It is not immediately known what will become of those projects.

In-depth: Trump’s big hotel expansion is at a standstill

With Trump in office, the Trump Organization agreed not to pursue any new foreign deals, canceling what the company says was “ ‘billions of dollars’ worth of projects.” The company also restricted who could invest in its properties and hired an outside ethics counsel to review any new projects that it was planning to pursue.

But because the president continues to hold a financial interest in the company, the Trump Organization has come under fire from critics charging that the company — and its expansion plans in particular — create conflicts of interest.

In two lawsuits wending their way through federal courts, the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland argue Trump is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars gifts or payments from foreign or state governments.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are preparing investigations into the president’s business, focused particularly on his District hotel, which has benefited from spending by foreign governments and federal lobbyists.

Purge of undocumented workers by the president’s company spreads to at least 5 Trump golf courses

Most recently, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) wrote to the Trump Organization demanding information about why T-Mobile executives had booked dozens of rooms at the Trump International Hotel after asking the Trump administration to approve a major merger.

With expansion made difficult, the Trump Organization has been left to defend its position in existing properties. The company lost branding and management deals for hotels in Toronto, Panama and New York. Owners of apartment and condominium complexes in New York have taken the Trump name down, saying the brand was hurting their property values.

In recent weeks, the company has been purging undocumented workers from the staffs of at least five of its golf properties.

Trump’s sons indicated that they plan to restart their plans when their father leaves office.

“When politics are over, we will resume doing what we do best which is building the best and most luxurious properties in the world — the interest in the Trump brand has never been stronger,” Donald Trump Jr. said in the statement.