Crackdown on US State Dept payments to Donald Trump’s firms
Politicians in a little-known House of Representatives sub-committee have voted to adopt an amendment that prevents the US State Department from spending taxpayers’ money at the US president’s properties, which remain in his ultimate ownership via a New York-based revocable trust.
As revealed by The Scotsman last year, Mr Trump’s flagship Scottish resort at Turnberry in South Ayrshire has received tens of thousands of pounds in payments from the State Department in the first two and a half years of his administration.
The series of payments to Turnberry include more than £52,000 spent on rooms at the historic resort last July, when Mr Trump and key members of his administration enjoyed a two night stay at the hotel and played rounds of golf during his UK visit.
The payments, which were made to Turnberry’s parent company, SLC Turnberry Limited, via the US embassy in London, prompted widespread criticism from ethics groups.
Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Centre, a Washington DC-based political watchdog, accused Mr Trump of “using the power and authority of his office to profit personally.”
The amendment to the Stare and Foreign Operations Bill - a labyrinthine piece of legislation which oversees the State Department’s vast budget - has been approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programmes.
The amendment, which covers payments to both Trump Turnberry and Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire as well as other Trump properties, was approved by 231 votes to 187. It will have to be ratified by the Senate before it becomes enshrined in law.
However, given the same proposal has been defeated twice before since Mr Trump took office, its pending approval is a victory for the 73-year-old’s opponents, and reflects the shift in power in Congress.
The amendment was brought forward by Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat, who said Mr Trump should not be able to profit from his presidency.
“President Trump’s refusal to divest himself of his many businesses raises serious questions about compliance with the domestic emoluments clause, which protects against presidential corruption,” he said.
“By prohibiting the use of federal funds at businesses owned, in whole or in part, by President Trump, we will be sending a strong message to the American people that we will not allow this or any other president to use his high office for personal enrichment.”
Mr Cohen said the prohibition would also apply to government officials staying at Trump properties, as well as the president himself and his family, adding: “The fact is, when we stay at his hotels, he makes money. Nobody’s supposed to make money from the presidency, either directly or indirectly.”
But the amendment has been criticised by Republicans, all but two of whom voted against the changes.
Hal Rogers from Kentucky warned that the blanket ban on government spending would have security implications for Mr Trump’s overseas visits and those by other senior government officials.
He described the amendment as a “partisan stunt” that would “jeopardise the safety and security of State Department personnel and foreign dignitaries.”
He said: “The mission of diplomatic security is to protect the people, places, and vital information that allow the US to be a leader in world events.
“That includes protecting the personal security of the secretary of state when he is tasked by the president with attending summits at one of the properties listed in the amendment. The president, not the secretary of state, selects travel locations.”
The Trump Organisation did not respond to a request for comment. It has previously told The Scotsman that Trump properties charged room rates only for US government patronage, and that it does not profit from the stays.