In this photo taken Dec. 21, 2106, the Trump International Hotel in Washington. 
Alex Brandon

Pence, Pompeo ignore concerns over Trump’s self-dealing

For those concerned with Donald Trump profiting off his presidency, it’s been a difficult few weeks. It started with the Republican announcing an effort to have the next G-7 summit held at one of his Florida properties. Soon after, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Ireland for meetings in Dublin, but as the president’s “suggestion,” he stayed three hours away at a Trump-owned property on the other side of the country.

This, of course, was followed by reports about military personnel staying at Trump’s business in Scotland, while supporting a nearby airport on which the president’s business heavily relies.

In light of the coverage, headlines, and initiated investigations, it stood to reason that the president and others in his orbit would exercise some caution in this area, at least for a while. But while that may have seemed like common sense, Team Trump chose a brazen course. The Washington Post reported on Thursday:

Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are scheduled to speak this week at President Trump’s hotel in Washington – lending their names to events put on by a paying customer of Trump’s private business.

The planned speeches suggest that President Trump and his Cabinet are not shying away from events that drive revenue to Trump’s company, even after multiple stories have brought new scrutiny to the blurring of lines between Trump’s business and presidency.

Pence spoke on Thursday at a gala hosted by Concerned Women for America, a prominent group in the religious right movement, while Pompeo appeared a day later at a “celebration luncheon” put on by the same organization.

I imagine some Americans are starting to get used this dynamic, but this isn’t the sort of thing that’s supposed to happen. Concerned Women for America, in this case, wasn’t just another far-right group hosting an event in the nation’s capital; it was also playing the role of Donald Trump’s customer. The vice president and the secretary of State didn’t see any harm in helping the president’s customer with its event.

Or put another way, a conservative organization is helping put money in Trump’s pocket, and two leading members of Trump’s cabinet helped put money in the group’s coffers.

It was against this backdrop that Pompeo thought it’d be funny to tell a little joke about the circumstances. “I look around, this is such a beautiful hotel,” the cabinet secretary said. “The guy who owns it must have been successful somewhere along the way.” He added, “That was for the Washington Post.”

Great. Concerns about corruption have become the stuff of punch-lines.

For his part, Trump whined on Twitter this morning that he will “lose billions of dollars” as a result of his public service. He added, “I am far beyond somebody paying for a hotel room for the evening, or filling up a gas tank at an airport I do not own.”

The second part of that quote is an obvious reference to Prestwick Airport in Scotland – though as we know, the fact that Trump doesn’t own the airport is not at the heart of the controversy.

What the president hasn’t explained is why he chose not to divest from his private holdings, which would’ve prevented concerns about self-dealing from coming to the fore. “I will be leaving my great business in total,” Trump said ahead of his inauguration.

Had he kept his word, the controversies he’s pushing back against wouldn’t exist.