July 20, 2017
Today marks six months since President Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. It also marks six months since CREW began documenting all known instances in which the federal government and special interests interacted with President Trump’s private business empire since he took office. While our timeline chronicling the president’s conflicts of interest over the past six months tells a variety of troubling stories, in the aggregate, one fact becomes crystal clear: despite President Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” of Washington, the intermingling of his administration and his personal business interests have actually buoyed the potential for corruption and special interest influence. The water in the swamp is rising to unprecedented levels.
Over the past 181 days, we have added 290 timeline entries flagging presidential conflicts of interest, an average of 1.6 entries a day over the past half a year. These conflicts include foreign officials, United States legislators, and lobbyists patronizing Trump businesses. They occurred down the street from the White House, at the Trump International Hotel, and across the globe, at Trump properties from West Palm Beach to Dubai.
Below, we discuss three broad takeaways from the past six months: First, President Trump frequently visits his own properties, using the office of the presidency to provide free advertising for his private businesses and reinforcing the impression that patronizing these businesses will provide access to and curry favor with government decisionmakers. Second, Trump administration officials also patronize Trump properties, presenting similar conflicts of interest. Finally, special interests appear to have received the message, loud and clear, as they often choose to hold events at Trump properties.
President Trump Frequently Visits His Own Properties
In the first six months in office, President Trump visited his properties on 63 different days — an average of a little under once every three days. The president spent more time at Mar-a-Lago than any other Trump property, visiting on 24 days. He also frequented several of his golf clubs—Trump National Golf Club – Jupiter, Trump International Golf Club – West Palm Beach, Trump National Golf Club – D.C. in Potomac Falls, Virginia, and Trump National Golf Club – Bedminster, NJ—visiting on 35 different dates. His visits have provided free advertising for his private business enterprises and granted unprecedented access to those wealthy enough to afford it. As the New York Times noted, President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago visits have created “a kind of Washington steakhouse on steroids, situated in a sunny playground of the rich and powerful, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists.”
This interactive graphic shows President Trump’s visits to his properties since his inauguration. The visits are chronological, with visits in the beginning of 2017 starting at the top of the graphic. Pan over the graphic to see the exact dates President Trump visited his properties, and the total number of times he visited each property in the past six months.
Trump Administration Officials Patronize Trump Properties
In the first six months of his administration, our timeline shows that President Trump’s staffers and federal appointees were seen at his properties a combined 85 times. This number only reflects reported sightings of administrative officials at President Trump’s properties, and undoubtedly undercounts the actual number of visits by a large amount. Of the known visits, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was spotted the most often, appearing nine times on our timeline of conflicts of interest. Mnuchin reportedly lived at the Trump International Hotel – Washington, D.C. during the workweek, commuting from New York City before buying a local residence in the middle of late February. White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon appears on our timeline of conflicts eight times, and both Senior Advisor Jared Kushner and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross make seven appearances. Other cabinet secretaries also appear repeatedly on the timeline: we recorded two Trump property visits apiece for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.
Administration officials were most often seen accompanying President Trump to his properties during the weekend. For example, many of President Trump’s officials were present at Mar-a-Lago the weekend of April 7th, when President Trump both hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and ordered a Syrian missile strike. When administration officials visit Trump properties, they advertise President Trump’s private business enterprises and increase the odds that members of these already-exclusive clubs will be able to grab the ear of a key government official.
Special Interests Patronize President Trump’s Properties
Of the 290 entries added to the timeline in the past six months, 34 involve special interest groups. These include President Trump’s business associates, who have spoken warmly of Mr. Trump’s ascent to the presidency, as well as foreign embassies and visiting dignitaries. As an anonymous diplomat noted in the days after President Trump’s election, “Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?’”
Trump administration officials have also been seen at events hosted by special interest groups and held at Trump properties. For example, both Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke attended an event hosted by the American Petroleum Institute (API) at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C in March.
Last, but certainly not least, political entities are using President Trump’s properties for events. A July 17 Buzzfeed News article identified at least $72,000 in spending from Republican campaigns and committees at these properties since President Trump’s election. As CREW has reported, this includes a $9,705 expenditure from the Virginia Republican Party, which hosted special guest White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer at a June fundraiser at the Trump National Golf Course in Potomac Falls, Virginia. Mr. Spicer himself praised the establishment, remarking that “you look around this place — the quality of the people, the quality of the establishment, the quality of the food — it’s what Trump’s all about. It’s all about quality. And It’s the same kind of qualities, and the same kind of dedication, that he’s brought to the White House.” President Trump himself appeared as a special guest to fundraise for Representative Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), who held an event at the Trump National Golf Club – Bedminster, NJ in June. NJ Advance Media reported that “couples donating or raising $25,000 [would] be co-hosts and also be able to pose with Trump.” As CREW has reported, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) spent a whopping $408,588 to host an event at the Trump National Doral golf club in Miami in May.
As long as President Trump refuses to divest from his business empire, it will continue to be unclear whether his decisions reflect what’s best for the American people, or for his own bottom line. Tracking the interactions between Trump businesses, special interests, and the government over the past six months has revealed that President Trump frequently visits his own properties, using the office of the presidency to provide free advertising for his businesses and reinforcing the impression that patronizing these businesses will provide access to—and curry favor with—government decisionmakers. Special interests appear to have received the message, holding several events at Trump properties over the past half a year. Indeed, if this is the state of affairs after only six months in the swamp, imagine what the next 42 could bring.