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Kuwaiti Embassy is latest to book Trump D.C. hotel, but ambassador says he felt ‘no pressure’

Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem Al-Sabah, center, at a 2012 fundraiser he hosted, alongside American guitarist Skunk Baxter, left, and former Hungarian ambassador to the United States Andras Simonyi. (Tony Powell Images)

Donald Trump, one month from taking the oath of office to become president, continues to draw new business from foreign leaders who book rooms and meeting space at his D.C. hotel.

The latest example is the Kuwaiti Embassy, which plans to hold its National Day celebration for about 600 guests at the hotel on Feb. 25.

Other foreign leaders who have held events at the hotel, which opened in the fall in the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, have come under fire and sometimes faced protests for doing business with Trump, who during his campaign suggested banning Muslims from entering the United States, engendered the support of white nationalists and made comments disparaging Mexican immigrants.

Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem al-Sabah said he felt no pressure to hold his event at the hotel and had not been contacted by the Trump Organization, contradicting aspects of a report Monday from the liberal website ThinkProgress. In previous years, Sabah and his wife, Rima, a power couple on the Washington dinner-party circuit, have held the embassy’s National Day celebration at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown.

“I do not know President-elect Trump. Or his people. No one has contacted me about moving the event,” Sabah said. “It was solely done with the intention of providing our guests with a new venue. We have been holding the event at the Four Seasons for years. There is a new hotel in town, and we thought we would give it a try.”

Besides, this would not be the first move from the Four Seasons. Last year, Sabah said the event was held at the Newseum.

The ThinkProgress report said Kuwait “cancelled” a contract at the Four Seasons for the event “under political pressure.” Sabah called the characterization “totally wrong and totally false.” He said he had asked the Four Seasons to reserve that time but hadn’t broken any contract and decided on the Trump hotel after hearing positive reviews from others who held events there, just as he had done with the Newseum last year.

“I heard some positive feedback from those who attended events there. Nobody contacted me. Nobody pressured me at all,” he said.  

 Spokeswomen for the Trump Organization and the Four Seasons Hotel declined to comment. 

Sabah acknowledged that holding the event at Trump’s hotel was likely to draw scrutiny. But he said his event “had nothing to do with anything else other than creating an exciting event for our guests.”

Previously, Bahrain held its National Day event at the hotel and Jewish leaders joined the Embassy of Azerbaijan in hosting a Hanukkah Party at the hotel. Washington travel experts say Trump’s hotel has started to draw enough business that it has begun affecting competitors. Trump hotel executives even hired the diplomatic sales manager from the Four Seasons.

To avoid potential conflicts, a wide range of ethics experts from both Republican and Democratic administrations have called on Trump to separate himself from businesses by doing more than simply putting them under control of his grown children, Don Jr. and Eric. Trump himself has not yet detailed what will happen to his businesses once he becomes president.

Unless Trump makes changes, his D.C. hotel lease could trigger two legal issues when he enters office Jan. 20: a provision in the lease barring elected officials from having a stake in the project and the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution barring gifts or profits from foreign leaders.

Trump backer and former House speaker Newt Gingrich suggested instead in an interview on NPR on Monday that Congress rewrite ethics laws to accommodate the Trumps. “We’ve never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don’t work,” he told talk show host Diane Rehm.

Drew Harwell contributed to this report.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz