The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A nonprofit paid to rent Trump’s D.C. hotel ballrooms. Its headliners: Pence and Pompeo

Vice President Pence is slated to speak at the Trump International Hotel in Washington Thursday.
Vice President Pence is slated to speak at the Trump International Hotel in Washington Thursday. (Peter Summers/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were scheduled to speak this week at President Trump’s hotel in Washington — lending their names to events put on by a paying customer of Trump’s private business.

The planned speeches suggest that Trump and his Cabinet are not shying away from events that drive revenue to the president’s company, even after multiple stories have brought new scrutiny to the blurring of lines between Trump’s business and presidency.

Pence spoke Thursday night at the hotel, during a gala put on by the Concerned Women for America, a 40-year-old conservative nonprofit organization that says it promotes “Biblical values and Constitutional principles.” Tickets to that event cost at least $99, according to the group’s website.

Pompeo will speak at a separate event at the Trump hotel on Friday, a “celebration luncheon” held by the same conservative group, his staff said.

Neither the conservative group nor the Trump Organization answered questions about how much these events cost. But similar events in the hotel’s ballrooms have cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, according to hotel documents reviewed by The Washington Post.

Spokespeople for Pence and Pompeo defended the speeches, saying the appearances did not steer this business to the president’s hotel, as the nonprofit had already chosen the venue before inviting the two officials. They said the appearances had been vetted for ethical or legal concerns and approved by others in the White House and the State Department.

The spokespeople for Pence and Pompeo spoke on the condition that they not be named to describe internal discussions.

The chief of staff for the Concerned Women of America, Toni DeLancey, declined to answer detailed questions about the event. She issued a brief statement that praised the Trump hotel’s “outstanding service.”

“This is a historic milestone for us, and we wanted our activists to feel valued and to experience the best accommodations Washington, D.C. has to offer,” DeLancey said in the statement.

The planned appearances by Pompeo and Pence were previously reported by the New York Times and journalist Zach Everson.

Pompeo and Pence visit the hotel at a time when Trump and his administration seem to be giving up on a bedrock promise of his presidency: that he would never use his public power to boost his private business.

“I will be leaving my great business in total,” Trump said before he took office. He kept ownership of the business, but said he would follow self-
imposed guidelines to avoid even the appearance that he was intermingling the presidency and his business.

But in the past few weeks, Trump and top aides have made repeated moves that brought publicity, revenue or both to Trump properties.

In the past month alone, Trump proposed holding the massive Group of Seven summit of world leaders at his struggling golf resort in Doral, Fla.

In addition, The Post reported that Attorney General William P. Barr has booked a ballroom at Trump’s Washington hotel for a large holiday party, which will cost in excess of $30,000.

And Pence built a major detour into an official, taxpayer-funded trip to Ireland that allowed him to stay at a Trump-owned golf resort, 140 miles from his meetings. Pence’s staff said Trump had “suggested” Pence stay at the hotel, after learning that Pence wanted to visit a cousin in the same town, though Trump has disputed that.

Afterward, the Democratic-led House Oversight Committee said it was launching an investigation into whether Pence had acted improperly to enrich the president.

This week’s speeches by Pence and Pompeo follow a slightly different pattern: Instead of boosting Trump’s business directly, they will lend their prestige to one of Trump’s customers.

Walter Shaub, who previously led the Office of Government Ethics, said that sends a signal to other potential customers — which could bring Trump more money. The signal, Shaub said, is: “The administration is sweetening the pot for outside groups to rent space in Trump’s properties by offering up the vice president or the secretary of state. Or, in this case, both.”

Shaub, who left office early in Trump’s term, now works at the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). He has been a frequent Trump critic.

In this case, he said, there are no conflict-of-interest laws that would bar Pence or Pompeo from doing this. But, he said, their actions undermine the honor system that was supposed to stop presidents from enriching themselves in office. He said that honor system could be in total disrepair by the time Trump leaves office.

Even before Thursday’s speech, Pence was a frequent guest at Trump’s properties.

CREW, the watchdog group, has counted at least 11 previous instances where Pence spoke to a gathering put on by a paying customer at Trump’s hotel.

In some cases, the customer was Pence’s PAC, called Great America Committee. Pence’s PAC has spent more than $200,000 on three events at the Trump hotel in Washington since the start of 2018.

For Pompeo, however, Friday’s speech appears to be something unusual.

Neither CREW nor Everson — the journalist who has tracked appearances by 24 current or former Cabinet members at Trump’s Washington hotel — could identify a past instance where Pompeo headlined an event at the hotel. Pompeo’s spokesperson declined to comment on that question.