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Foreign governments paid millions to Trump's companies while he was president

The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., is seen on March 22, 2019.
Alex Wroblewski
Getty Images
The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., is seen on March 22, 2019.

A new report by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee documents more than $7.8 million in payments from at least 20 foreign governments — including China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — to businesses owned by then-President Donald Trump during two years of his presidential term.

It is illegal for presidents to accept any money from foreign governments without congressional approval per Article I of the U.S. Constitution, which states that "no person holding any office ... shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state."

Democrats say at least 20 foreign governments or state-controlled businesses paid Trump-owned businesses during his presidential term.

The Democrats' evidence consists primarily of thousands of Trump's business records obtained from his longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, which were obtained after a years-long legal battle which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.

Trump's relationship with his family businesses while in office

Despite warnings from government ethics officials, Trump broke with tradition and did not divest from his businesses before taking office. Instead, he announced that he would cede responsibility for day-to-day decision making to his two eldest sons. He also pledged that there would be no new foreign deals during his time in office.

But payments from foreign governments appear to have continued.

The largest documented payment was $5.4 million in rent from China's state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank during his first two years in office.

The bank's lease payments for the space in New York's Trump Tower began in 2008, according Kimberly Benza, a spokesperson for the Trump Organization.

At the time, Trump was a frequent political commentator who floated running for president — but the lease deal was initiated many years before his 2015 presidential campaign announcement.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, India and Malaysia each spent more than $200,000 at Trump hotels and properties, according to the report.

Benza said in an email to NPR that the profits from hotel stays "were donated in full to the United States Treasury for patronage at our properties while President Trump was in office" and cited a roughly $450,000 donation by the president.

The company's hospitality portfolio also voluntarily implemented a program in an effort to track all foreign government patronage, Benza said.

At least some properties, including the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., said that they would not pursue or market to foreign delegations and related groups — though, as detailed in the report, did not deny foreign government bookings.

"We do not have the ability or viability to stop someone from booking through third parties — Expedia etc — hence the voluntary donation of profits on an annual basis which has been covered ad nauseam," Benza wrote.

In response to a question about Trump's donations to the Treasury, the Democrats behind the report said that do not believe paying back profits absolves the former president under the Constitution and noted that there is no way to verify the former president's accounting without access to more financial documents.

Report comes as Republicans move ahead on impeachment investigation into President Biden

The report also emphasizes that the total amount of foreign government spending could be significantly higher. The report only covers two years of Trump's time in office because, Democrats say, Republicans ceased enforcing document requests after gaining control of Congress in 2023.

Democratic lawmakers released the report just weeks after Republicans formalized their impeachment inquiry into President Biden, alleging without direct evidence that he was involved in his son's foreign business dealings and that those purported entanglements could have influenced his behavior in while in office.

Benza, the Trump organization spokesperson, accused Democrats of releasing the information to deflect from that investigation.

Asked about the timing, Rep. Jamie Raskin, the report's lead author and the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said that the investigation dated back years to the beginning of Trump's term.

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Eric McDaniel
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.