The president’s family business pays at least $3 million a year to the federal government for the lease on its D.C. hotel, which is all but empty because of the virus. The next monthly payment is coming due.
President Trump’s signature hotel in the nation’s capital wants a break on the terms of its lease. The landlord determining the fate of the request is Mr. Trump’s own administration.
Trump International Hotel, just a few blocks from the White House, had been a favored gathering place for lobbyists, foreign dignitaries and others hoping to score points with the president. But like most hotels, it is now nearly empty and looking to cut costs because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In recent weeks, the president’s family business has inquired about changing its lease payments, according to people familiar with the matter, which the federal government has reported amount to nearly $268,000 per month.
The Trump Organization owns and operates the luxury hotel, but it is in a federally owned building on Pennsylvania Avenue. As part of its deal to open the 263-room hotel, the company signed a 60-year lease in 2013 that requires the monthly payments to the General Services Administration.
Eric Trump, the president’s son, confirmed that the company had opened a conversation about possible changes to the terms of the lease, which could include adjustments to future monthly payments. The Trump Organization has said it is current on its rent.
The younger Mr. Trump said the company was asking the G.S.A. for any relief that it might be granting other federal tenants. The president still owns the company, but his eldest sons run the day-to-day operations.
“Just treat us the same,” Eric Trump said in a statement on Tuesday. “Whatever that may be is fine.”
The G.S.A. did not immediately respond to a request for comment, including about whether its other tenants had made similar inquiries. The White House also did not respond to a request for comment.
Companies across the country have pleaded for relief from lenders and landlords, but the Trump Organization’s submission presents a particular predicament.
If it denies the request, the agency risks running afoul of the president, who appoints its leader; but if it accommodates the Trumps, the agency is likely to draw fire from critics.
The Trump Organization was barred by Congress from seeking relief from the $500 billion rescue fund being administered by the Treasury Department, and a Trump Organization executive said on Tuesday that the company had decided not to apply for a federal loan through the Small Business Administration. The company argues that it is seeking only temporary relief from the G.S.A. while the hotel industry globally copes with an extraordinary drop in business.
Along with the broader hospitality industry, the company is expected to take a significant hit from the economic shutdown. The Trump Organization has temporarily closed its hotel overlooking the Las Vegas Strip, cut staff and services at its hotel in New York, and effectively closed its golf clubs in New Jersey and Florida. It also shuttered the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, which at this time of year would ordinarily be acting as the “winter White House,” as the president refers to it. The Washington hotel’s bar, restaurant and spa are closed, but it is still accepting reservations.
The request to the G.S.A. is one of a number of attempts by the Trump Organization to get breathing room from its lenders and other financial partners.
The company has been talking with Deutsche Bank, the president’s largest creditor, about the possibility of postponing payments on its loans from the bank.
Mr. Trump owes Deutsche Bank more than $300 million on loans connected to the Washington hotel, his Doral golf resort in Florida and a skyscraper in downtown Chicago. The Trump Organization has a small amount of debt compared with other major real estate companies, which could weigh in its favor as it seeks support from Deutsche Bank and others. Representatives have been in talks with Rosemary Vrablic, a senior banker in the Deutsche Bank division that serves the ultrarich, about delaying or reducing its loan payments. Ms. Vrablic has been working with Mr. Trump for nearly a decade and, before that, worked closely with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.
While Ms. Vrablic is in charge of the bank’s relationship with the company, changes to the terms of the loans could generate acrimony inside Deutsche Bank and are likely to be vetted by senior executives responsible for protecting the bank’s reputation, according to a person familiar with the deliberations.
Bank executives already have been debating the wisdom of granting forbearance to the president, with some worried about the political blowback they would almost certainly encounter for cutting Mr. Trump slack, the person said. Deutsche Bank is overseen by federal regulators, and the Justice Department has been conducting a criminal investigation into the bank over allegations of money laundering and other misconduct.
In Florida, the Trump Organization in late March sought guidance from Palm Beach County about whether it had to continue making monthly payments on land that the company leases for its 27-hole Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, according to people briefed on the discussions and documents reviewed by The New York Times.
This month, the Trump Organization made its monthly lease payment of about $88,000 about a week after the due date but before the company would have incurred a penalty, according to county documents. Company executives are still seeking guidance from Palm Beach County about whether they are expected to keep making lease payments with the golf industry shut down.
Eric Trump confirmed that the negotiations were underway and said the company was seeking the same relief that any other companies were getting.
“In Florida, the very county that mandated we close is the very county collecting rent,” he said. “What are they doing for others? Just treat us the same.”
Some of Palm Beach County’s commissioners worry that if they don’t give the president’s company extra time to make lease payments, the county could anger the president and lose out on federal assistance to fight the coronavirus, according to a county official who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
Separately, the Trump Organization, like other hotel chains, was eligible to apply for loans of up to $10 million that can be converted into grants from the Small Business Administration, based on a provision inserted into the stimulus package that allowed large companies with hotels that individually had fewer than 500 employees to apply for the assistance.
But this program would have required the Trump Organization to bring back workers, as it is intended to prevent job losses. The Trump Organization did not apply, according to the company.
Of all the company’s dealings, the Washington hotel’s relationship with the federal government has provided the most fodder for the president’s rivals, who argue that the property is a prime example of the president blurring the lines between his administration and his business.
Soon after he took office, the G.S.A. ruled that Mr. Trump’s ascending to the presidency did not violate the terms of the lease between his company and the government. But in 2019, the G.S.A.’s inspector general issued a report asserting that the agency’s lawyers had largely ignored potential constitutional issues related to the lease, essentially allowing the president’s operation of the property to continue.
The president’s lawyers have disputed charges that the arrangement could violate a constitutional provision that bars federal officials from taking payments or gifts from foreign governments. The hotel, frequented by foreigners and others doing business with the government, has been at the center of those allegations, while the Trump Organization has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits from foreign governments.
The company last year put the hotel on the market for a possible sale, citing the ongoing objections, and a potential for a major financial windfall. The company fielded bids, but any deal is now off the table because of the pandemic.
Last week, the managing director of the Washington hotel, Mickael Damelincourt, posted a photo to Twitter of himself wearing a mask, standing in the hotel’s empty bar, with his chin up. “Keep looking up and Never Ever Give Up,” he wrote.
This week’s episode of Trump, Inc. brings clarity to a complex subject. It identifies three patterns in the president’s approach to taxes.
- First, it describes a history of ignoring norms (which, for presidential candidates, include releasing tax returns).
- Second, it delves into a recent New York Times investigation — which concluded that the president’s family committed “outright fraud” — to show a history of breaking tax rules.
- Finally, it examines Trump’s ability to change tax rules to benefit himself and his wealthy peers.
The episode includes an interview with The New York Times’ Susanne Craig, the co-author of the expose that reported that Fred Trump passed $413 million in today’s dollars to his son Donald, who describes how she reported her article and the mysteries she and her colleagues unraveled. It also examines a second New York Times article that explored how Kushner exploited a seemingly prosaic tax technique — depreciation — to wipe out his taxable income. (Representatives of the Trumps and Kushners have denied any tax improprieties.) Finally, the episode looks at many of the ways in which Trump’s signature tax cut will redound to the benefit of the real estate industry.
Much remains mysterious about the Enquirer’s actions, and in particular its connections, if any, with President Trump and the government of Saudi Arabia — a possibility that Bezos alluded to in his blog post. Both the Saudis and Trump are aggrieved at The Post, and Trump wrongly blames Bezos for the newspaper’s accurate but unflattering coverage of him. When the Enquirer’s initial article about Bezos’s extramarital relationship was published, the president gloated in a tweet: “So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post. Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better & more responsible hands!”
The president would obviously love to see a sale of The Post to a friendlier owner — perhaps Trump pal David Pecker, the chairman and chief executive of AMI. (One is reminded of autocrats such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who have benefited from bullying media organizations into submission in their own countries.) The Enquirer was threatening Bezos in order to get him to affirm that its coverage was not “politically motivated or influenced by political forces.” Might the Enquirer have, at a minimum, pursued the story to curry favor with Trump?
.. This is apparently not the first time the publication has been accused of extortionate demands. Other journalists, including Ronan Farrow of the New Yorker, have said they were threatened by the Enquirer’s lawyers while investigating the tabloid’s relationship with Trump. And Bezos wrote that “numerous people have contacted our investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI.” These machinations are now being exposed because of Bezos’s smart and courageous decision to confront the Enquirer rather than give in. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out,
.. I suspect David Pecker will rue the day that his friend Donald Trump became president — if he does not already. And he is not alone.
- Paul Manafort had a flourishing business as an international influence-peddler before he became Trump’s campaign chairman. He now faces a long stretch in prison after having been convicted of felony financial charges. Trump’s friend
- Roger Stone has now been indicted for the first time after a long career as a political dirty trickster.
- Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, has gone from well-respected general to felon.
- Michael Cohen had a cushy career as Trump’s personal lawyer before his client became president. Now Cohen, too, is a felon. Numerous other Trump associates and family members are facing, at a minimum, hefty legal bills and, at worst, serious legal exposure.
Every organization Trump has been associated with — the Trump Organization, the Trump Foundation, the Trump campaign, the Trump administration — is being investigated by prosecutors and lawmakers. His name, long his biggest asset, has become so toxic that bookings are down at his hotels. And Trump, a.k.a. Individual 1, faces a serious threat of prosecution once he leaves office. Before it is all over, Trump himself may regret the day he became president. His unexpected and undeserved ascent is delivering long overdue accountability for him and his sleazy associates. We have gone from logrolling to having logs rolled over — and it’s about time.
President Trump’s advisers and allies are increasingly worried that he has neither the staff nor the strategy to protect himself from a possible Democratic takeover of the House, which would empower the opposition party to shower the administration with subpoenas or even pursue impeachment charges
.. The president and some of his advisers have discussed possibly adding veteran defense attorney Abbe Lowell, who currently represents Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, to Trump’s personal legal team
..Trump announced Wednesday that
- Donald McGahn will depart as White House counsel this fall, once the Senate confirms Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. Three of McGahn’s deputies —
- Greg Katsas,
- Uttam Dhillon and
- Makan Delrahim — have departed, and a fourth,
- Stefan Passantino, will have his last day Friday.
That leaves John Eisenberg, who handles national security, as the lone deputy counsel.
.. McGahn and other aides have invoked the prospect of impeachment to persuade the president not to take actions or behave in ways that they believe would hurt him, officials said... Trump has told confidants that some of his aides have highly competent lawyers such as Lowell, who represents Kushner, and William A. Burck, who represents McGahn as well as former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.“He wonders why he doesn’t have lawyers like that,” said one person who has discussed the matter with Trump.Another adviser said Trump remarked this year, “I need a lawyer like Abbe.”Giuliani said that he has not heard of Trump considering adding Lowell to the team but that he would be a great choice because of his thorough and aggressive style.
“This president might like that better,” Giuliani said. “If he thinks someone isn’t being tough enough, he has a tendency to go out to defend himself. And that’s not good.”
.. “I would think that the type of lawyer most able to handle the impeachment scenario would be someone from the appellate and Supreme Court bar — someone of the Ted Olson or Paul Clement or Andy Pincus level, someone who knows how to make the kind of arguments should it come to a vote in the Senate,” Corallo said.
.. Emmet Flood, a White House lawyer and McGahn ally who handles the special counsel’s Russia investigation, has long been considered a top prospect to replace McGahn.
.. Flood, often described as a lawyer’s lawyer, is in many ways the opposite of Trump and Giuliani, yet the president has told advisers he is impressed by Flood’s legal chops and hard-line positions defending the prerogatives of the White House.
.. White House aides, including deputy chief of staff Johnny DeStefano and political director Bill Stepien, have tried to ratchet down Trump’s expectations for the elections, saying that projections look grim in the House.
.. Another concern is that the White House, which already has struggled in attracting top-caliber talent to staff positions, could face an exodus if Democrats take over the House, because aides fear their mere proximity to the president could place them in legal limbo and possibly result in hefty lawyers’ fees.
“It stops good people from potentially serving because nobody wants to inherit a $400,000 legal bill,” said another Trump adviser.
.. the West Wing staff is barely equipped to handle basic crisis communications functions, such as distributing robust talking points to key surrogates, and question how the operation could handle an impeachment trial or other potential battles.
Trump sees the administration as having a singular focus — him — and therefore is less concerned with the institution of the presidency and not aware of the vast infrastructure often required to protect it, according to some of his allies.
.. Jack Quinn, who served as White House counsel under Clinton, said his office had at least 40 lawyers and as many as 60 during key times.
.. “I appreciate that Rudy Giuliani is doing a lot of the public speaking and perhaps some other things,” Quinn said. But, he added, “it’s a little bit of a mystery to me who is doing the outside legal work.”
n late 2016, I had lunch with a former high-ranking Trump Organization executive, a person who said he was happy to share dirt on his old boss, but who confessed to not having much dirt to share. This executive wrote a list of people whom I might contact to find out about anything potentially illegal or unethical that Donald Trump may have done. At the bottom of the list was the name Weisselberg. “Allen is the one guy who knows everything,” the person told me. “He’ll never talk to you.” I have had nearly identical conversations with different people who work or have worked for the Trump Organization many times since. They all described his role similarly: Allen Weisselberg, the firm’s longtime chief financial officer, is the center, the person in the company who knows more than anyone.
.. It is safe to say that the entire world of Trump watchers—those journalists, political folks, and advocates who carefully monitor every bit of Trump news—went bonkers. Weisselberg is the man to whom those people most want to speak. He is also the man who has, for decades, been the most circumspect.
.. “I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” Cohen explains to Trump.
It is difficult to hear the tape and not wonder how Weisselberg developed this particular expertise and whether he had deployed it before.
More importantly, it offers more justification for Robert Mueller and other federal, state, and local prosecutors to investigate the Trump Organization’s general business practices.
.. Weisselberg’s son Barry works at the Trump-run Wollman Skating Rink, in Central Park; his other son, Jack, works at Ladder Capital, which has been a primary lender to the Trump Organization in recent years, when few other lenders would work with a company that had experienced several bankruptcies.
.. Last month, the New York State Attorney General, Barbara Underwood, sued the Trump Foundation. Weisselberg had been deposed and showed a surprising willingness to give answers that put the President in an unflattering light.
.. In January, 2016, during Trump’s Presidential campaign, his foundation made a series of donations to veterans-advocacy organizations in Iowa that were explicitly designed to gain support for his candidacy.
.. Were Weisselberg eager to protect his longtime boss, he could have answered the questions far more narrowly. It was an early hint that Weisselberg, like Cohen, may not jeopardize his own freedom to defend Trump.
- .. There is, for example, a question about where Trump got more than two hundred million dollars in cash to buy and lavishly upgrade a money-losing golf course in Scotland.
- In a deal in Azerbaijan, Trump knowingly did business with a family that is widely suspected of laundering money for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
- The F.B.I. has reportedly investigated the source of funds for a Trump-branded property in Vancouver, Canada; while the Trump hotel in Toronto also has suspicious funding.
- Many of the key questions about Donald Trump revolve around his funding sources and his business partners: Did he knowingly receive funds from criminals? Did he launder money for criminals?
- Did he receive remuneration to look the other way when his partners broke the law?
- Was much of his business built around selling his famous name to make illegitimate projects seem viable?
Was much of his business built around selling his famous name to make illegitimate projects seem viable?
.. Weisselberg is a big fish—perhaps the biggest fish of all. Fearing that Weisselberg might implicate them in a crime, any cronies, dealmakers, attorneys, and others who might want to exchange information for leniency from prosecutors, will now do so.
.. With Cohen and, now, Weisselberg providing information, it is becoming increasingly certain that the American people will—sooner or later—have a far fuller understanding of how Donald Trump conducted business. That is unlikely to go well for him.
Prosecutors said Trump Organization executives were involved in reimbursing Mr. Cohen for that payment, accepting his phony invoices that listed it as a legal expense. The other charge concerned a complicated arrangement in which a tabloid bought the rights to the story about the former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, then killed it.
.. “I think the allegations reveal that executives in the Trump Organization — more than one, and not clear how many more than one — were involved in funneling the payments to Stormy Daniels and may have significant legal exposure as a result of that,” she said, even though their actions came after the fact.
“Obviously, they are trying to hide something,” she added. “There’s a normal way to do this and then there’s the way they did it.”
.. The company recorded the reimbursement to Ms. Clifford as legal fees, which legal experts characterized as unusual.
Mr. Cohen paid Ms. Clifford $130,000, but he was ultimately reimbursed $420,000 by the Trump Organization.
Here’s why: Mr. Cohen received a $60,000 bonus, and the company allocated about $180,000 to cover the taxes that Mr. Cohen had to pay on the hush money.
There was also an additional $50,000 that Mr. Cohen received after putting in a claim for “tech services.”
That related to work that Mr. Cohen “solicited” from a technology company during the campaign, the court filing said.
Several current and former prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers said that if the officials at the Trump Organization were aware of what the payments were for, they could possibly be criminally culpable.
And they said that if the $420,000 in payments to Mr. Cohen, which were recorded as legal expenses, were written off as a tax deduction, as would be the general practice, it could lead to criminal tax charges.
.. only the first two of the 12 monthly $35,000 payments to Mr. Cohen were paid by a trust that owns the company; the other 10 were paid from Mr. Trump’s personal accounts.
.. the person, who would only discuss the payments on the condition of anonymity, could not say who approved the reimbursement; why it was approved if no one knew what it was for; why the payments were recorded as legal expenses; and why, even though they were recorded as such, they were not deducted from the company’s taxes.
.. “It would be highly unusual to record it as legal fees and then not deduct it.”
Mr. Weisselberg has served as executive vice president and chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, and was once described by a person close to the company as “the most senior person in the organization that’s not a Trump.” After Mr. Trump was elected, he handed control of his financial assets and business interests to his two adult sons and Mr. Weisselberg.
.. Mr. Weisselberg, a reserved accountant associates say is prized by Mr. Trump for his loyalty, has handled personal financial matters for Mr. Trump and has also been linked to payments made to two women who alleged they had sexual encounters with Mr. Trump.
.. During his effort to secure the retainer, Mr. Cohen showed Mr. Weisselberg records that he said related to expenditures he had made on behalf of Mr. Trump from his personal home-equity line of credit, this person said.
.. In the recording, which Mr. Cohen secretly made and which is under review by federal investigators, Mr. Cohen said he would set up a company to make the payment, adding, “I’ve spoken with Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” before Mr. Trump interrupts him.
.. Later in the conversation, Mr. Cohen reiterates that he “spoke with Allen” about the plan to finance the payment.
.. Mr. Cohen’s repeated references to Mr. Weisselberg in his conversation with Mr. Trump about buying the story were interpreted by others in the company as an effort to bolster Mr. Cohen’s credibility, according to a former associate of Mr. Weisselberg.
.. Mr. Weisselberg’s ties to the Trump family date back to days of working for the real-estate firm owned by Mr. Trump’s father, Fred, in the 1980s. He later came to the Trump Organization, where he reported directly to Donald Trump and worked out of an office in Trump Tower.
He was long an understated presence—one former colleague told the Journal in 2016 that Mr. Weisselberg “fits in with the wallpaper”—but with a temper that flared at times and an ability to crunch numbers rapidly
.. Mr. Weisselberg long performed tasks such as arranging for checks that Mr. Trump would sign, but also took on an increasingly large role at the company. If he thought there might be questions about whether or not to pay a supplier the full amount the Trump Organization owed, he would direct executives to check directly with Mr. Trump, one former executive said.
Over the years, Mr. Weisselberg has handled dealings with banks and other important matters, according to the former executives. He oversaw many of Mr. Trump’s personal transactions, the Journal has reported, citing a former Trump executive, including paying household expenses as well as the purchases of boats, planes or other personal properties.
For years, at least through the financial crisis, Mr. Weisselberg prepared Mr. Trump’s tax returns, according to one former Trump Organization employee.
Another former executive said Mr. Trump would sometimes point out to him how Mr. Weisselberg had been loyal to him for decades. In the course of business meetings, Mr. Trump also at times would reflexively ask his CFO to confirm his opinion. During one meeting, in 2015, Mr. Trump turned to Mr. Weisselberg and asked, according to a person who was there:
“Isn’t that right, Allen?”
“One-thousand percent right,” Mr. Weisselberg responded.