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Trump's businesses got at least $7.8 million in foreign payments while he was president, House Democrats say

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Washington — Donald Trump's businesses received at least $7.8 million in payments from foreign governments and government-backed entities from 20 countries while he was in the White House, according to a new report by House Democrats.

Drawing upon 451 pages of documents received from Trump's longtime accounting firm Mazars and a federal agency, Democratic staffers on the House Oversight Committee on Thursday issued their 156-page report entitled "White House for Sale: How Princes, Prime Ministers, and Premiers Paid Off President Trump." 

The records, the report said, "demonstrate that four Trump-owned properties together collected, at the least, millions of dollars in payments from foreign governments and officials." The Democrats alleged these payments violated what's known as the Constitution's Foreign Emoluments Clause, which prohibits federal officials from accepting gifts or other benefits from foreign countries without congressional approval.

"This report sets forth the records showing foreign government money — and all the spoils from royals we can find — pouring into hotels and buildings that the President continued to own during his presidency, all in direct violation of the Constitutional prohibition," said Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee.

The Democrats noted that they had access to a limited number of financial documents and that "the foreign payments to President Trump identified in this report are likely only a small fraction of the total amount of such payments he received during his presidency." 

Where the payments came from

The Democratic report focuses on payments to four Trump-controlled businesses: the Trump hotels in Washington, Las Vegas and New York, and Trump Tower in Manhattan. 

While Trump turned over day-to-day operations of his businesses to his sons when he entered the White House in 2017, he declined to divest his assets and retained "personal ownership and control of all his businesses, as well as the ability to draw funds from them without any outside disclosure," the report alleged. This arrangement, Democrats said, "reinforced (rather than severed) his ties to his businesses and enabled him to prioritize his personal interests over those of the nation."

During his presidency, the Trump International Hotel in Washington attracted many foreign diplomats and dignitaries hoping to mingle with Trump allies and administration officials. According to Trump's financial disclosure reports from when he was president, he earned more than $40 million from the D.C. hotel in 2017, and $40.8 million the following year.

A view of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 18, 2021.
A view of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 18, 2021. Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Despite Trump's frequent criticism of China and insistence that the country was taking advantage of the U.S., the majority of foreign payments included in Thursday's report came from the Chinese government and two state-owned entities.  

The payments totaled nearly $5.6 million at properties including Trump Tower, and the Trump International Hotels in Washington and Las Vegas, the report found. The bulk of the payments came from the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which paid $5.35 million in rent for space in Trump Tower from February 2017 to October 2019.

The nation that spent the second-most at the Trump properties, according to the report, was Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government spent more than $615,000 at Trump World Tower in New York and the Trump hotel in Washington from 2017 to 2020.

The report noted that Trump praised Saudi Arabia and mentioned "his transactional relationships" with the kingdom before taking office. During an August 21, 2015, rally in Alabama, Trump said Saudi nationals had spent millions of dollars on his apartments. 

"Saudi Arabia, I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million," he said. "Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much!" 

The report said that Trump "oversaw several highly consequential decisions on a range of issues involving U.S. policy towards Saudi Arabia" while his businesses were receiving payments from the Saudi government. The Democrats noted Trump's response to the 2018 death of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamaal Khashoggi, in which he publicly doubted the conclusion of the intelligence community that the Saudi crown prince had ordered his killing. 

Qatar follows Saudi Arabia's spending, with $465,744 spent at Trump World Tower. Nearly all of the remaining payments, from countries including Kuwait, India, Malaysia, Afghanistan, the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates, occurred at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

The fight over emoluments

Trump's business dealings as president were the subject of three major court cases while he was in office, the first of which was filed in 2017. The cases, brought by Democratic lawmakers, several states and an oversight group, were the first legal battles over the Emoluments Clause, but failed to resolve questions about the definition of an "emolument" or the scope of constitutional provision. The Supreme Court dismissed two of them once Trump left office and declined to review the third.

The Trump campaign didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the new report. Trump dismissed the "phony Emoluments Clause" and concerns about his business dealings in 2019.

The Trump Organization has said it voluntarily donated proceeds from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury every year from 2018 to 2021. In 2017, the Trump Organization said it would rely on foreign representatives to self-report if they were paying a Trump company for something in their official capacity. 

The company said it donated $191,538 in foreign payments in 2019, $105,465 in 2020 and $10,577 in 2021.

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