Trump’s D.C. hotel made millions from foreign governments but still struggled, federal documents show

Oct 8, 2021
In The News

Hundreds of pages of the hotel’s financial documents show that the federally leased hotel lost $71 million while Trump was in office.

Donald Trump’s luxury Washington hotel lost more than $70 million while he was in office despite reaping millions in payments from foreign governments, according to federal documents released by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Friday.

The committee, chaired by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), released hundreds of pages of financial documents on the property Friday that it received from the General Services Administration, the agency that has leased the federally owned property to Trump’s company since 2013. Trump was required to submit the documents to the GSA as a condition of his lease.

Maloney and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) allege the documents show that Trump received an estimated $3.7 million from foreign governments and got “preferential treatment” from Deutsche Bank, which had previously loaned Trump $170 million to renovate the hotel.

The findings “raise new and troubling questions about former President Trump’s lease with GSA and the agency’s ability to manage the former President’s conflicts of interest during his term in office when he was effectively on both sides of the contract, as landlord and tenant,” the two Democrats said in a news release.

Maloney and Connolly also wrote a 27-page letter Friday to GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan, saying the documents warranted further investigation.

The Trump Organization called the committee’s allegations “irresponsible and unequivocally false.”

“We have been great custodians of this iconic building, continue to have a great relationship with the GSA and are in full compliance with our leasehold obligations,” company spokeswoman Kimberly Benza wrote. “Simply stated, this report is nothing more than continued political harassment in a desperate attempt to mislead the American public and defame Trump in pursuit of an agenda.”

The committee released documents showing that, in 2017, Trump’s company told the GSA that it would be required to start repaying the principal of its Deutsche Bank loan — not just the interest — in August 2018, “subject to certain conditions outlined in the loan agreement.” Paying interest alone, the Trump Organization owed annual mortgage payments on the hotel between $5 and $7 million.

Then, in the filing for 2018, Trump’s company said no principal would be due until 2024. The financial documents did not give an explanation for the change in wording. The House Oversight Committee said it did not know why the wording changed, and did not offer a reason for its claim that this was “preferential treatment” by Deutsche Bank.

Benza, the Trump Organization spokeswoman, said that characterization was wrong. “At no time did the company receive any preferential treatment from any lender,” Benza wrote. She did not offer an explanation for why the wording changed.

Deutsche Bank also disputed the committee’s findings. “The Committee’s letter makes several inaccurate statements regarding Deutsche Bank and its loan agreement,” bank spokesman Dan Hunter said, without elaborating.

The Constitution prohibits presidents from taking “emoluments,” or payments, from foreign governments. Trump insisted that this prohibition did not apply to normal business transactions, allowing him to continue renting rooms and ballrooms to foreign states. Democrats filed lawsuits alleging he was wrong, but their cases bogged down and no court ever ruled Trump was in violation of the clause.

But his company said it would donate any profits made off foreign-government business back to the U.S. Treasury Department. Between 2017 and 2019, the company donated $448,000.

The House Oversight committee used that figure — along with other details about the hotel’s revenue and profitability — to estimate that Trump’s hotel had received about $3.7 million in payments from foreign governments during those three years. But the committee said this figure was not exact, and that it was not clear which governments had made the payments.

Before Trump entered politics, his Washington hotel symbolized the ambitions of his small luxury hotel chain. The Trump Organization converted the historic Old Post Office Pavilion into a 263-room palace near the White House — and scoffed at rivals who said they paid too much, and would never make money.

“I mean, we are paying too much for the Old Post Office,” Trump told The Washington Post in 2012. “But we will make that so amazing that at some point in the future it’ll be very nice.”

After Trump won the White House, the hotel came to symbolize something else: the blurred lines between Trump’s government and his business. Foreign leaders, Republican groups and companies seeking government approvals all crowded into its soaring atrium. Sometimes, they met Trump the president and paid Trump the businessman, all in the same trip.

But, through all that change, the documents show, the Trump hotel lost money.

Even in its best years, the documents show, the hotel was only about 56 percent full, lagging behind its competitors in the D.C. luxury market. It lost between $13 million and $22 million every year, requiring constant injections of capital. The documents show that Trump’s company poured more than $24 million in from his company’s coffers to offset losses.

The financials reveal more about the results of an expansion spree that Trump undertook in the years before he entered politics — shifting his company away from a focus on U.S. golf clubs and merchandising contracts, and adding a string of expensive and high-profile luxury hotels.

Trump has invested more than $289 million in two golf resorts in Scotland without ever turning a profit, according to financial statements filed with the British government. His Doral resort in Florida has struggled, according to public filings, and the New York Times reported that it required Trump to inject more than $213 million in additional funds.

In Washington, Trump’s company tried to sell the lease for its hotel in 2019, as soon as its contract with the GSA allowed. Then, the company pulled the hotel off the market when the coronavirus pandemic struck, crushing the hotel business for months.

Now, Trump’s lease is for sale again. Multiple bidders have expressed interest, according to two people familiar with the sale, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private business discussions.

Sheila Johnson, owner of the Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Va., expressed interest in the property last year but it is unknown whether she is pursuing the property. She did not respond to recent calls and text messages seeking comment.

Trump’s company has previously floated $500 million as a possible target price. Industry experts say it is worth well short of that, but that top luxury hotel chains are likely to be interested in taking over the property and marketing it to a wider audience than Trump was able to given his politics.

Trump has called the investigations into his hotel and his finances, by both Democrats on Capitol Hill and New York prosecutors, politically motivated and without merit. A spokeswoman for Trump and spokespeople for his company did not immediately return requests for comment Friday morning. The GSA also did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson from Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

Trump’s company spent an estimated $200 million renovating the building into a luxury hotel. Shortly after Trump entered the White House, the GSA ruled that his company remained in compliance with the lease.

Despite a series of lawsuits and Congressional hearings launched by Democrats accusing the president of corruption and constitutional violations, his company was able to maintain control of the hotel.