Trump's company exploring sale of marquee Washington hotel


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's company said Friday it is exploring the sale of its marquee Washington hotel, which has been at the center of nearly three years of ethics complaints and lawsuits accusing him of trying to profit off the presidency.

The Trump Organization says it will consider offers to buy it out of a 100-year lease of the building, partly to avoid criticism over conflicts of interest. The Trump International Hotel, which opened in late 2016 just before Trump was elected, has been a magnet for lobbyists and diplomats looking to gain favor with the administration.

"People are objecting to us making so much money on the hotel and therefore we may be willing to sell," said Eric Trump, an executive vice president of the Trump Organization. "Since we opened our doors, we have received tremendous interest in this hotel and as real-estate developers, we are always willing to explore our options."

The opulent hotel built in the Old Post Office down the street from the White House has hosted parties thrown by diplomats from the Philippines, Kuwait and other countries, and has been among the biggest money makers in Trump's real estate empire. It is at the center of two lawsuits accusing the president of violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars presidents from receiving gifts or payments from foreign governments.

According to Trump's most recent financial disclosure, the 263-room hotel took in $41 million in revenue last year, up less than half a million dollars from the previous year.

In his statement, Eric Trump said the Trump Organization agreed not actively solicit foreign government business for the hotel when his father took the oath of office, and its success has been all the more remarkable given that voluntary restraint.

But Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert and Trump critic, said the idea that the hotel has made sacrifices to avoid conflicts is "nonsense" and the Trump Organization may be selling now because it fears the profits will fall if the president is not elected.

"There is no reason to think that Republican Party operatives or a trade association that wants to curry favor with the next president will choose this hotel," said Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.  "It will just be another fancy hotel."

Other good government critics saw danger with the sale itself: Will the buyer pay more than the hotel is worth in attempt to get in good with the administration? And what if the buyer is from overseas?

"If the Trump Organization puts out a 'For sale' sign on the Trump International Hotel and seeks and takes bids, it will create massive conflicts of interests with the deep-pocketed individuals, foreign governments, investment funds or corporations that could afford to make such a purchase," said Robert Weissman, president of  Public Citizen, a liberal-leaning consumer advocacy group.

The Trump Organization said it has hired real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle to consider offers.

In his statement, Eric Trump addressed concerns about conflicts of interest by noting the company cuts a check to the U.S. Treasury each year for what it calculates as "profit" from foreign government business at its hotels and other properties. That amounted to $191,538 last year, up from $151,470 the previous year.

Condon reported from New York.

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