On a June morning, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis Klaus Iohannis President of Romania. Iohannis thanked Trump the next morning for his “strong leadership.” His office did not say whether he stayed at the hotel overnight. and his wife enjoyed croissants in the lounge of the opulent hotel, a day before joining President Trump a few blocks away at the White House for a Rose Garden news conference.
Downstairs that same day in the grand ballroom, hundreds of bankers discussed their industry’s future under Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Steven Mnuchin Treasury secretary. Mnuchin, sometimes spotted carrying his small dog while staying at the hotel, is the architect of Trump's tax reform plan. , who lived in the hotel for six months at his own expense, according to a spokesman, after Trump picked him for the job.
The scenes illustrate a daily spectacle of Washington influence at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave., the city’s newest luxury hotel that has quickly become a kind of White House annex. Since Trump’s election, the Trump International Hotel has emerged as a Republican Party power center where on a good day — such as July 28 around 8 p.m. — excited visitors can watch the president share intimate dinner conversation with his just-named chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and be the first to brag about it on social media.
This is nothing Washington has ever seen. For the first time in presidential history, a profit-making venture touts the name of a U.S. president in its gold signage. And every cup of coffee served, every fundraiser scheduled, every filet mignon ordered feeds the revenue of the Trump family’s private business.
In conversations with The Washington Post, the hotel’s management described its strategy to capitalize on the president’s popularity. It markets the hotel to Republican and conservative groups that embrace Trump’s politics but takes care not to solicit business from fringe groups that would embarrass the president. Trump supporters in red “Make America Great Again” caps get a chance to rub elbows with White House officials against an American flag backdrop at the Benjamin Bar, where a signature concoction of winter wheat vodka, oysters and caviar goes for $100.
“While we can’t quantify how much business we have received because of politics, neither can we quantify how much we have lost,” Patricia Tang Patricia Tang Trump International Hotel director of sales and marketing. Tang is an industry veteran who has worked for the Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Mandarin Oriental and other luxury brands. , director of sales and marketing, said in an interview.
It is difficult to see comings and goings at the hotel. There are no signs in the lobby to direct guests to daily events, velvet ropes block the public from meeting areas, and some groups holding conventions and banquets omit references to Trump’s name in their promotional materials. Many decline to answer questions about why they chose the Trump hotel from the many similar luxury Washington venues.
The Post spent part of every day in May in the hotel’s bars, restaurants and lobby. What reporters saw ranged from events hosted by foreign groups with policy priorities to Republican glitterati — Rudolph W. Giuliani Rudolph W. Giuliani Lobbyist and former New York City mayor. Giuliani spoke to two reporters at the hotel that night and assured them he was not a candidate to replace Comey. posing for selfies at the bar the night Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey; White House aide Omarosa Manigault conferring with the former producer of “The Apprentice”; former Trump campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski Corey Lewandowski Former Trump campaign manager. Lewandowski stepped down from the lobbying firm he co-founded in early May. plopping into a black leather chair marked “Reserved”; then-press secretary Sean Spicer Sean Spicer Former White House press secretary. Spicer stepped aside from running the White House press briefing the day he was at the hotel, May 5, for Navy Reserve duty. scrolling through his phone on a plush blue sofa in the lobby.
The parade included out-of-town tourists gawking in the lobby; bartenders hawking $2,500-per-bottle champagne; a light artist at nightfall projecting a protest message on the gray stone facade that read “Pay Trump Bribes Here.”
Trump, as titular leader of the Republican Party, has showcased the hotel as a destination of choice for GOP loyalists.
In July, about 300 Republican donors, paying $35,000 apiece, gathered at the hotel for a fundraiser headlined by the president. The event raised an estimated $10 million for Trump’s campaign, the Republican National Committee and other GOP groups, according to news reports at the time.
Money also has poured in from other Republican political committees that have chosen the Trump hotel as a venue for receptions. The hotel has hosted events for Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) A Republican congressman from California. Rohrabacher is an early Trump supporter whom Politico recently dubbed "Putin’s favorite congressman." , Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) A Republican congressman from Pennsylvania. Shuster also supported Trump's campaign. The committee he chairs has oversight over the GSA — the Trump hotel's landlord. and nine other Republican members of Congress, according to campaign spending disclosures.
No one has yet calculated how much taxpayer money is being spent at the hotel. A Texas newspaper is seeking records of state expenditures at the hotel. In Maine, the Portland Press Herald dug into Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s spending at the hotel when in Washington for White House meetings. LePage’s spokesman defended the expenditures, telling the newspaper that the governor was meeting with federal officials “in an effort to benefit the Maine people.”
Business from foreign customers is brisk, the hotel says, but as an ethical precaution, it says it does not market directly to foreign embassies. Under an agreement signed by Trump, the hotel has promised to donate any profits made from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury. An obscure constitutional provision known as the emoluments clause prohibits the president from profiting from foreign governments without specific approval from Congress.
But groups with foreign interests have found that the location helps attract Washington star power. In May, a pair of business groups promoting Turkish American relations staged their annual convention at the Trump hotel during a tense moment between the countries.
The Turkish ambassador was there, and a high-ranking State Department official offered his thoughts on a violent protest that led to arrests at the ambassador’s residence in Washington. Trump confidant Newt Gingrich Newt Gingrich A member of Trump’s inner circle and a former congressman. Gingrich also made a speech to the National Funeral Directors Association in the hotel’s Lincoln Library in April. stressed the importance of smooth relations in a keynote luncheon speech.
At the convention’s end, 190 guests feasted on a three-course dinner at $95 per person, with the bill paid by the event sponsors, according to a billing obtained by The Post. Breakfast, dinner and drinks on May 23 alone ran to more than $30,000, including a “Banquet Event Service Charge” of 24 percent and eight gallons of Trump Signature Segafredo Zanetti Coffee, internal documents show.
‘It’s doing well’
A high-end renovation of the historic Old Post Office Pavilion, the 263-room hotel has become a symbol of the tangled ethical questions posed by Trump’s presidency. The Trump Organization, then headed by the billionaire New York developer, leased the property from the General Services Administration in 2013 and pays the federal agency $250,000 in rent each month.
Since Trump’s election, his critics have charged that anyone seeking favor from the White House has an incentive to stay in posh rooms that can be booked on the Internet for $400 per night or more. One of Washington’s most expensive hotels, the Trump International brought in $19.7 million between its opening last fall and mid-April, according to Trump’s most recent financial disclosure. Some hotel industry experts say that number is higher than expected, and senior analyst Michael Bellisario of Robert W. Baird and Co. said, “Anecdotally, it’s doing well because people are staying there when they come to visit the White House.”
Trump tried to address ethical concerns by turning over the hotel’s management to his two eldest sons and vowing to take no hotel profits during his tenure. But he retained his ownership interest, allowing him to eventually profit from the holdings.
The arrangement did little to quell controversy. Early this year, lobbying reports revealed that some veterans groups had been brought in to lobby Congress against a law allowing victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to sue Saudi Arabia. The veterans groups ran up $270,000 in hotel charges, including about $190,000 for rooms, $78,000 for catering and $1,600 for parking, the filings showed.
The bill was ultimately paid by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, leading to criticism as Trump embarked three months later to Saudi Arabia on his first international trip. The White House did not respond to questions. The Saudi embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
The Trump hotel has faced lawsuits since its opening. The most recent ones filed by two state attorneys general, members of Congress and competing Washington convention businesses contend that Trump is violating the emoluments clause.
Trump’s donation to the U.S. Treasury is aimed for the end of the year, and Tang said the hotel keeps a separate ledger to record any payments from foreign governments.
But Trump critics such as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) The District's delegate in the House. Norton holds a top position overseeing GSA and pressed the agency to put the property out to bid. (D-D.C.), who worked with Ivanka Trump on the original development plans for the hotel, argue that the novel legal questions posed by the emoluments lawsuits will eventually force the president to give up ownership.
“I can’t believe that there’s any court that will say the emoluments clause does not apply here, notwithstanding that it has never been tried in court before,” Norton said.
A Republican respite
For Trump supporters, the hotel offers a safe space in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. For Republican lobbyists, conservative groups and foreign entities, including many that do not typically enjoy White House access, it has become a frequent stop.
The hotel’s visibility also has made it a central target for activists representing immigrants, climate science and labor groups who aren’t always successful on Capitol Hill but can sometimes make the evening news protesting at the hotel.
In May, Trump’s son Eric Eric Trump Trump's son and executive vice president of the Trump Organization. Eric runs Trump’s company with his brother Donald Jr. He spent four days in town overseeing the tournament. and his wife, Lara, stopped by while in town for a golf tournament at Trump’s Virginia course. Spicer Sean Spicer Former White House press secretary. Spicer stepped aside from running the White House press briefing the day he was at the hotel, May 5, for Navy Reserve duty. , who promoted the hotel as “absolutely stunning” after Trump was elected, ate alone near the bar.
Lobbying groups and foreign entities held galas in the 13,200-square-foot Presidential Ballroom designed by daughter Ivanka to offer larger event space than any other luxury hotel in the city.
Other luxury hotels in D.C.
Source: The hotels, District of Columbia
Geographic Information Services
Other luxury hotels in D.C.
Source: The hotels, District of Columbia Geographic Information Services
Other luxury hotels in D.C.
Source: The hotels, District of Columbia Geographic Information Services
The Benjamin Bar, named for Benjamin Franklin, served as a nightly resting spot for White House visitors and a green room for Trump surrogates on their way to or from media hits.
Lewandowski Corey Lewandowski Former Trump campaign manager. Lewandowski stepped down from the lobbying firm he co-founded in early May. , the former campaign strategist, rolled through once a week or more. On the day Robert S. Mueller III was appointed special counsel to investigate possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, Lewandowski — shortly after denying on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show that he saw anyone on the campaign have conversations with a foreign government — showed up to pace the marble-floored lobby. Weeks later, he sat and had beers with New York Times Magazine reporter Mark Leibovich Mark Leibovich Chief national correspondent for the New York Times Magazine. A few weeks after Leibovich was there, Trump tweeted “The failing @nytimes writes false story after false story about me.” .
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) Republican senator of Kentucky. Paul told reporters that morning it was “going to take a little bit of work” to get him to vote for a health-care bill replacement but that he does “have an open mind.” had dinner with his wife. David Clarke David Clarke Sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wis. Clarke said the month prior that the Trump administration had appointed him assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security. He remains a sheriff. , the Milwaukee sheriff who was then reportedly under consideration for a homeland security job, hung out at the bar in camo shorts. The Trump family’s event planner, Lynne Patton Lynne Patton HUD director for New York-New Jersey. Patton frequented the hotel in May. The next month, the Trump administration named her to the HUD position. , now a senior official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, posted a video online from the hotel lobby in which she and friends pitched Ivanka Trump’s new book.
One Friday evening in May, a group of Russian clerics arrived in the long, black flowing robes and beards of the Eastern Orthodox church for closing ceremonies of the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians, in partnership with the Rev. Franklin Graham and his evangelical organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. More than 800 people from 130 countries and territories attended.
A spokesman for Graham said the choice to use the Trump hotel “was based on space and availability.” He said Graham “isn’t aware of any facts that would give him concern at this point” regarding Trump’s continued property ownership.
The Turkish event May 21 to 23 was booked before the election, according to organizers, but came as the government of Turkey stepped up its presence in Washington, hiring a Florida-based Trump fundraiser, Brian Ballard Brian Ballard Lobbyist and fundraiser. Ballard’s clients include American Airlines, MGM Resorts, Reynolds American tobacco and U.S. Sugar. He came to the hotel for the RNC in July. , as a lobbyist with a $1.5 million initial contract, according to public filings.
The event was co-chaired by a group headed by K. Ekim Alptekin K. Ekim Alptekin Chairman of the Turkey-U.S. Business Council. Alptekin told the crowd he hired Flynn “to help me understand where the Turkish American relationship is going.” , founder of a company that paid retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for lobbying work that may have benefited the Turkish government. The former Trump national security adviser is now under investigation by the Pentagon and congressional committees regarding his relationships with foreign governments.
Alptekin surprised ballroom guests during the first morning session by directly addressing the hiring of Flynn’s company to “help me understand where the Turkish American relationship is going and what the obstacles to the relationship are.”
An Italian medical foundation hosted cancer doctors from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the University Medical Center in Hamburg from May 11 to 13. The program omitted mention of Trump, listing the location as “Congress Center — Old Post Office Building.”
A spokesman for the German university said it played no role in selecting the location, and the foundation, Fondazione Internazionale Menarini, did not respond to a request for comment.
The PenFed Foundation held its 800-person charity gala at the hotel to benefit veterans, and president Tamara Darvish said the hotel choice was not political. “We are there to help veterans,” she said.
Consulting giant Deloitte did not respond to questions about its decision to use the hotel for a June 8 event that attracted hundreds of banking leaders as Congress discussed whether Dodd-Frank financial regulations should be rolled back.
Meanwhile, the ties between the hotel and the White House have only strengthened. First lady Melania Trump chose the hotel’s director of rooms as White House usher, adding to a former caddie, hotel spokeswoman and bodyguard from Trump’s business who have all found positions in the White House.
Trump has yet to name a new GSA administrator, who will oversee his company’s lease. And congressional Democrats, led by Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) A Democratic congressman from Oregon. His staff recently produced a 24-page report on the hotel called "Breach of a Lease: The Tale of the Old Post Office in the Swamp." , have accused the GSA of withholding documents about the Trump lease arrangements from the committee overseeing the agency.
Anti-Trump protesters continue to use the venue to speak out on the president’s policies. It is not unusual for the hotel to suspend service at its European-style sidewalk cafe and move guests inside.
One evening, hotel staff guided guests inside just in time to miss a man in a wheelchair rolling down the street out front giving the hotel the middle finger as part of a demonstration for disabled rights.
“It’s such a symbol of Trump and his excesses,” said Donna Norton of MomsRising, a liberal network with more than 1 million members who led about 100 people on a march to the hotel in May.
She said when her protest group arrived, the hotel staff was very polite in turning them away.
“I think they’re getting used to it,” she said.