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Trump-appointed ambassador directed government business to his hotel, emails show

President Donald Trump and Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft participate in a luncheon with the permanent representatives of the U.N. Security Council on Dec. 5, 2019. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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An earlier version of this story misidentified Kelly Craft’s husband as Robert Craft. His first name is Joe.

Kelly Craft, who was appointed to two ambassadorships under President Donald Trump, directed government business to Trump’s hotel in Washington while in office, emails released by the State Department show.

In November 2018, Craft — then the U.S. ambassador to Canada — received an email about an upcoming conference in Washington for ambassadors and other chiefs of mission. The email included a list of five recommended hotels in Washington that had blocks of rooms set aside for conference attendees, along with specially negotiated rates between $119 and $181 per night.

Craft apparently ignored those recommendations.

“Is this a meeting I should attend? If so, I would prefer the TRUMP HOTEL,” Craft wrote after forwarding the email to a staffer, referring to the Trump International Hotel, which was owned by Trump’s company and in a building leased from the federal government.

The staffer replied that the conference was one Craft would “definitely” want to attend.

“I’ll make reservations at the Trump Intl Hotel,” the staffer added.

Craft’s emails were obtained from the State Department by the nonprofit legal watchdog group American Oversight through a records request under the Freedom of Information Act, and they were reported earlier Thursday by Forbes. The watchdog group accused Craft of using her position as an American diplomat “to line the president’s pockets” and said it was “an example of the casual corruption that permeated the Trump administration and undermines confidence in the United States.”

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“Ambassador Craft’s apparent eagerness to direct business to a Trump-owned hotel sends a signal that U.S. foreign policy is pay-to-play,” American Oversight spokesman Jack Patterson said in a statement.

Craft could not be reached for comment Thursday.

It was not the first time Craft showed an affinity for the hotel owned by Trump’s company. According to the emails, Craft stayed at the Trump International Hotel multiple times while in Washington. On Jan. 8, 2018, a staffer sent a “friendly reminder” for Craft to provide the name and contact details for the Trump hotel manager “so that I could arrange a suite for you” later that month.

In April 2018, the obtained emails showed Craft had a reservation at the Trump hotel to catch an event with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

In June 2018, Craft was scheduled to attend a conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., about 10 miles away from the Trump hotel in Washington. According to the emails, a staffer asked Craft in May if she would be interested “in a boutique hotel near the Gaylord” for the conference.

“Let’s keep TRUMP Hotel,” Craft replied from her BlackBerry device.

On June 18, 2018, Craft and her husband, Joe Craft, were expected to check in to the Trump hotel in Washington for a three-night stay, according to an internal hotel “VIP Arrivals” list obtained by The Washington Post. The list, which allowed hotel staff to recognize important guests, listed the Crafts as repeat customers paying a “high rate,” and as gold-level members of the company’s Trump Card rewards program.

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Separately, The Post obtained government receipts showing more than $3,500 in spending by the State Department or its employees at the Trump International Hotel in Washington during Trump’s term. None of those receipts referenced a stay by Craft, but they give a sense of the rates that the Trump hotel charged the State Department: In those cases, it was between $175 and $251 per night.

During Trump’s term, millions of government and GOP dollars flowed to his properties, and high-ranking Republican officials and newsmakers could often be seen at his luxury hotel in Washington, less than a mile from the White House. Even after leaving office, Trump has continued to direct taxpayer dollars to his businesses, in May charging the Secret Service nearly $10,200 for agents’ rooms at his Florida resort.

Trump appointed Craft to two ambassadorships while in office: as ambassador to Canada in 2017 and as ambassador to the United Nations in 2019. Craft has since continued to tout her connections to the Trump administration and to praise the former president as she reportedly eyes a run for Kentucky governor.

In a speech at the Fancy Farm picnic in Kentucky last month, Craft said she was “grateful to Donald Trump” and that he had given her “the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“Whatever may or will be said about him, for four years he brought America, the United States, our country back to being the real business of American public life,” Craft said about Trump in her speech then, according to Spectrum 1 News. “He reasserted the vital element of our national destiny: that America’s values are what made America.”

Craft was a business executive and philanthropist before serving as ambassador to Canada. Her husband is president and chief executive of coal producer Alliance Resource Partners.

The couple are major Republican donors, having given about $1.5 million to GOP candidates in 2016, including $270,800 to Trump’s campaign committee or his joint fundraising committee with the Republican National Committee. In her nominations for ambassadorships, she also had the strong support of a fellow Kentuckian, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R).

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