Health restrictions have led to cutbacks at hotels and golf courses. But the swimming pool remains open at a Florida resort, and a New York golf course offers “fresh air” without caddies.
Reeling from the global fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump’s family business has cut back hotel operations, closed some golf courses and restaurants and shed dozens of workers — all while pushing to keep other properties open and promote them on social media.
In recent days, the Trump Organization cut staff from hotels in New York and Washington, halted new reservations at a hotel overlooking the Las Vegas Strip and closed golf courses in Los Angeles and the Miami area, according to people with knowledge of the matter. It also closed the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, which normally would be at a peak right now, with regular seasonal visits by Mr. Trump himself.
The cutbacks, expected to continue in coming days, were a last resort, a company executive said, as the priority had been keeping thousands of employees and contract workers on the job. The company has a portfolio of more than a dozen golf clubs and at least partially owns or operates five-star hotels in Chicago, Hawaii, Las Vegas, New York, Vancouver and Washington, as well as Ireland and Scotland.
Generally, the company has folded the tent only when local authorities mandated it, despite a growing national urgency to limit social gatherings and close nonessential businesses. In an interview, Eric Trump, the president’s son who manages the family business, said the company was trying to limit shutdowns.
“As an organization we are following federal, state and local direction and guidance very carefully,” he said.
For those properties that remain open, the company has continued promotional campaigns on social media and through direct email.
On Friday morning, Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, a public course in the Bronx, invited guests on Twitter to play a round: “Looking to get some #freshair? The golf course is a great place to relieve stress and exercise social distancing #openingday.”
Similarly, the president’s golf club in Hudson Valley, N.Y., was closed for the winter season but opened its course to members on Wednesday as a sort of cure for cabin fever, according to an email reviewed by The New York Times.
“Governor Cuomo has recommended that we use public spaces and parks for exercise and relaxation,” the club said in the email to members. “With this in mind, we are opening the golf course to give you an opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy the great outdoors!”
The Trump Organization will undoubtedly take a major hit from the coronavirus crisis, though it is relatively well positioned, in part because it has a small overall share of debt compared with other major real estate companies, and because it has increasingly relied on rental revenue from office buildings in New York and San Francisco.
So far, the company has avoided the widespread shutdowns some larger hotel chains have taken on, such as the Hilton Worldwide Holdings, which is closing the bulk of its properties in major cities.
Chip Rogers, president and chief executive of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a trade group, said this was the more common approach right now in the industry.
“The vast majority of hotels that are dependent on business or leisure travel don’t have the occupancy to stay open right now,” he said.
In the interview, Eric Trump explained that, unlike large hotel chains, the Trump Organization had the flexibility to make case-by-case decisions.
“All of the associates in our company are family, and we are all awaiting the moment this pandemic is defeated so we can reopen and get back to work, running the best assets in the world,” Mr. Trump said.
For now, the president’s company has continued to accept new reservations at its hotels in Chicago and on Central Park West in New York. But the New York hotel is shedding staff, laying off 40 employees so far, and reducing the hours of others, according to a person familiar with the matter.
In a letter to owners of hotel units in the building on Thursday, Matthew Vandegrift, general manager of the property, called it an “unprecedented event” and warned of a “significant shortfall in revenues.”
“While we recognize that hope is not a strategy, I can assure you we are thoroughly analyzing expenses,” Mr. Vandegrift wrote, in the letter obtained by The Times. “Strategies have been deployed to mitigate the expected financial losses as a result of COVID-19.”
Also this week, the Trump Organization shuttered most amenities inside its Washington hotel — the restaurant, bar and spa — to comply with a local order. Ordinarily a magnet for Republican officials and lobbyists, the property was turning away anyone without a room key or a reservation on Wednesday.
Mickael Damelincourt, the managing director, posted a message on Twitter showing the hotel’s empty lobby. “A sleepy America’s Living Room … Ready to rebound bigger than ever … Be safe everyone!!!” he wrote.
The hotel has roughly 5 percent occupancy, and 95 percent of the staff is not working at the moment, according to John Boardman, the executive secretary-treasurer of Unite Here Local 25, a union with 174 workers at the hotel. He called it a “real skeleton staff” in the same predicament as other nearby hotels. The union is negotiating benefits for displaced workers with the Trump hotel and others.
“The industry is devastated,” Mr. Boardman said. “It is devastated in the near term, and what we are starting to see is a round of longer-term cancellations as the uncertainty increases. We are not expecting people to be called back to work any time soon.”
Over the past week, several Trump businesses, on their various social media accounts, gave little sense that something was amiss. The Doral resort near Miami suggested a Friday the 13th game of golf and a round of drinks at the bar. On Monday, the Westchester, N.Y., golf club showed off its 101-foot waterfall. And on Sunday, the Washington hotel invited guests to join in for “Dessert Night” on Fridays.
But by Wednesday morning, many of the accounts posted an American flag and a variation of a message sending well wishes to patrons during “these uncertain times.”
As recently as last Saturday morning, the Trump golf club in Bedminster, N.J., e notified members of plans to “remain open,” adding, “We hope that you and your families will continue to see it as a place where you can relax and enjoy the terrific weather we’re having before spring has even started,” an email reviewed by The Times said.
That night, the club hosted a private party, a person with knowledge of the gathering said.
But after Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey instituted various restrictions on recreational businesses, the club notified its members on Tuesday that although they could still play golf, there would be no caddies, or pretty much any other services. “Wash your hands!” the email exhorted.
The president’s Mar-a-Lago club was the site of events earlier in March that included several people who have since been confirmed to have coronavirus, including two Brazilian officials who accompanied President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil to a dinner with Mr. Trump at the resort on March 7.
Last week, The Trump Organization sent out a notice to Mar-a-Lago members notifying them that the club would be cleaned on Monday but remain open the rest of the week.
Now, the club has closed, at least temporarily, based on calls for social distancing.
Not far away, at the golf resort in Doral, another of Mr. Trump’s highest-profile properties, the company was still accepting new reservations on Friday, though it had shut down its courses and restaurants. Still, according to a hotel employee, the family pool remained open.
The key period begins in 2010, when Trump and his businesses were suffering a series of many watershed crises. All major banks except for Deutsche Bank refused to lend him money, his television program was sinking in the ratings, his casino business was in the midst of a humiliating collapse, and the lifeblood of his company—the steady transfer of cash from his father and then his father’s estate—had run out. Yet, that same year, Trump began an unprecedented spending spree, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into several money-losing golf courses, particularly Doral, in Florida, and two courses in Scotland. At this moment, the Trump Organization is seeking approval to spend nearly two hundred million dollars to develop housing and amenities for his course in Aberdeen.
This sudden windfall has never been clearly explained. Eric Trump once told a reporter that the funding came from wealthy Russians who love golf. He subsequently denied ever saying this, and instead claimed that it came from “incredible cash flow.” This is confusing. The Trump Organization is best understood as a series of unconnected high-risk bets and schemes, most of which have lost money. Much of its cash flow came primarily from the legacy properties in Queens and Brooklyn developed by Trump’s father, Fred, and four office towers that Trump, quite accidentally, found himself co-owning. There is nothing that Trump was doing in 2010 or the years afterward that suggests a sudden increase in his “incredible cash flow.” So where did the money come from? Barr’s summary does not address this vital question.
It is no small matter for the President of the United States to have had a dramatic and unexplained increase in cash during the financial crisis and in the years leading up to and including his Presidency. As I have written in the past, it is notable that Trump began spending this money at the same time that he befriended several oligarchs in the former Soviet Union, notably the Mammadov family, of Azerbaijan, and the Agalarovs, originally from Azerbaijan but now based in Moscow. Both families are likely money launderers with a penchant for spending fortunes on money-losing golf courses. We know that Trump was paid millions by both families for a failed 2012 luxury apartment building and for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow—and that he and his children stayed in close contact with them for years afterward.
There was a hope—perhaps held in vain—that Mueller would recognize that it would not be possible to draw conclusions about the President’s relationship with Russia without understanding how Trump made so much money in recent years—and, most important, how much, if any, of that business came from oligarchs from the Soviet Union. The investigation into the President’s businesses will now be the work of Congress and of local, state, and federal prosecutors. The President will accuse them of being sore losers, of ignoring the seeming vindication described in Mueller’s report. They will be told that they are politicizing the Presidency. But a simple fact remains: we have no idea who gave our President hundreds of millions of dollars and what he might owe in return. We have a right to know.
It’s possible-to-likely that sometime next year, President Trump will look back on the Mueller probe with yearning and nostalgia — given what’s about to happen to his administration in the newly Democratic House of Representatives.
.. Of these 27 committees, by my count, 22 deal with substantive matters in which the Democrats have already expressed displeasure with, or horror at, or concern over, the behavior of the Trump administration.
Let’s go through a few of them, shall we? The House Armed Services Committee deals with the US military and the Pentagon. Questions have been raised about the politicized nature of the president’s deployment of troops to the US border to protect the nation from the migrant caravan.
I bet you haven’t heard of Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, who will chair the committee. But you will. Oh, yes, you will — when he hauls Defense Secretary Jim Mattis into a hearing to go over how much the mission cost and who ordered it and what the purpose was and whether Mattis himself agreed with the idea.
He will be on the front pages of every newspaper and his hearing will be carried live on the cable news channels.
How about the House Foreign Affairs Committee? New York’s own Eliot Engel will be chairing that one, and you can bet Engel will be interested in hearing from State Department officials about the goings-on behind the scenes between Saudi Arabia and the United States, including questions about the commingling of American foreign policy with Trump family business interests.
Oh, and let’s not forget the House Judiciary Committee, shall we? My congressman, Jerry Nadler, will be in charge of that one. And he’s already vowed to call Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker as his first witness, over Whitaker’s “expressed hostility” to Mueller and the threat he represents to the “integrity of that investigation.”
But you can bet Nadler won’t stop with Whitaker. He’ll aim for Trump and those closest to him. He wants to look into Russian collusion as a possible preliminary to impeachment proceedings against the president.
Even a boring committee like Natural Resources has a fat target: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has had two different matters referred by the department’s inspector general for possible criminal prosecution.
Notice I haven’t even mentioned Ivanka’s e-mails. Or Jared Kushner’s family deals in China. Or about a hundred other controversial topics. And I can’t mention things that haven’t happened yet — weird new developments of the sort the Trump administration seems to generate every week and will certainly continue to generate in 2019.
Mueller’s probe has been mostly very quiet, except when indictments are issued and trials are conducted. It has also been largely confined to a single subject area. Most of the matters I’m talking about here will be discussed loudly and without restraint by those elected officials who will feel particularly emboldened by the midterm election results.
Those results not only showed a Democratic gain of as many as 40 seats in the House, but a national popular-vote margin of more than eight points over the Republicans in an off-year in which Democrats received nearly as many votes collectively as Donald Trump scored in 2016.