BEFORE DONALD TRUMP became president, when he was just a famous real estate developer, he made a risky bet: He proposed spending $200 million renovating the historic Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, transforming a dilapidated property known for a low-rent food court into a luxury hotel. The bet would pay off only if guests were willing to pay sky-high rates and the hotel saw brisk spa and events business.
If the president’s financial disclosure forms are any indication, the gamble worked for Mr. Trump — but at the price of the country’s dignity.
Mr. Trump on Thursday released his latest required financial disclosure forms. They show that the Trump International Hotel produced $41 million in revenue, which, according to CNN, brings to more than $80 million the total amount he has made from the property during his presidency. The hotel accounted for almost a tenth of his company’s revenue last year.
High demand on the part of Republicans, lobbyists and foreign governments helps explain the hotel’s success. T-Mobile executives spent nearly $200,000 there as they sought approval for a merger with Sprint. A variety of foreign countries have held events at Trump International. The Trump Organization says it donates all the profits it makes from foreign governments. But the president, who has refused to divest from his company, undoubtedly still benefits from high, price-driving demand at his landmark property, not to mention the profits domestic lobbyists produce. For those seeking to influence the Trump administration, padding the president’s wallet with conspicuous spending at his hotel must seem like a viable strategy.
The story of the president’s conflict of interest at Trump International gets worse when one factors in that his administration killed a plan to move the FBI out of Washington and redevelop the agency’s crumbling headquarters, which is near the Old Post Office, after Mr. Trump inserted himself into the discussions. This decision may saddle the FBI with an inadequate headquarters for the foreseeable future. Mr. Trump, meanwhile, avoids possible competition. Once again, it looks as though the president’s personal interests and the country’s diverged.
The Trump International Hotel is just one business venture of many in which the president has a stake. With his company privately held and Mr. Trump refusing to release any more than what is legally required about his finances, the public can only guess at the other conflicts of interest that might affect his thinking. Mr. Trump continues to refuse to release his tax returns, as every president in recent memory has done voluntarily. As he gears up for 2020, he is arguing that his tax forms do not matter. But, as the story of the Old Post Office indicates, they do.