NEW YORK – The Trump Organization will not ask guests at its hotels and resorts if they are using money from foreign governments to pay their bills, setting up a possible showdown with Democrats accusing the president of violating the U.S. Constitution.
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In a nine-page pamphlet made public Wednesday, the Trump Organization said that it would be "impractical" to identify all guests using foreign government money. Asking guests to identify themselves, it added, would "impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand."
The company said that it will tally up only money it takes in from those who have specifically identified themselves as working for a foreign government entity.
The statement is the first from the company to detail how it will handle foreign government business at its properties. Critics say that by not selling off his hotels and resorts, President Donald Trump is opening himself up to bribes from foreign governments. His new luxury Washington, D.C., hotel down the street from the Oval Office has been a popular venue for diplomats.
Before taking office, Trump promised to donate profits from foreign governments using his properties to the U.S. Treasury. A lawyer representing the Trump Organization, Sheri Dillon, had described the offer as beyond what is necessary, a way to allay concerns that Trump — wittingly or not — may profit from the presidency.
Democrats slammed the Trump Organization's latest statement.
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Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the statement raises "grave concerns" about whether the president is violating the Constitution. Another Maryland Democrat, Rep. John Sarbanes, said the statement makes a "mockery" of the Constitution by putting "the guest experience" before the law.
The "emoluments clause" of the Constitution says the president may not accept foreign gifts or payments without the consent of Congress. But just what the framers meant by a gift or payment is hotly disputed. The Trump Organization maintains the clause does not apply to "fair value exchanges" in which people pay for a service, like the use of a hotel room.
The pamphlet came in response to a request last month from the House Oversight Committee for more detail from the Trump Organization on how it will identify foreign government payments, how profits from those payments will be calculated, how they will be donated and whether Trump or his trust plans to claim the donations for tax deduction purposes.
In the pamphlet, the company emphasized the difficulty of identifying foreign government payments given that some could come from foreign owned or controlled companies or investment funds. It also noted some of its business is from walk-in customers to its restaurants and shops, not registered guests.
To check for foreign government payments, the company said it will look at the bills it sends, contracts signed for hosting groups and payments from "reasonably identifiable foreign entities."
It added that it is not its policy to "attempt to identify individual travelers who have not specifically identified themselves as being a representative of a foreign government entity on foreign government business."
As for "profit," the Trump Organizations says it will define it according to industry standards as established by the Uniform System of Accounts for the Lodging Industry. It also said it will make the payments to the U.S. Treasury annually at the end of its fiscal year.
Trump stepped down from his family company before taking office but still maintains financial ties to it.
In a letter to the Trump Organization, Cummings asked the company for more details and that it brief the Oversight Committee by June 2.