In April 2017, Trump and a dozen of his advisers hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and his delegation at Mar-a-Lago. Late in the evening, a group of the party members went to Mar-a-Lago’s library bar and asked the bartender to leave the room so they “could speak confidentially.” The group helped themselves to drinks and the bartender was not allowed to return. On April 13, Mar-a-Lago tallied up a bill for the drinks, which came to $838 of alcohol, plus a 20 percent service charge.
According to ProPublica, the State Department received the bill and objected to paying it. The White House then received, and paid, the bill. Trump’s White House paid the bill for Trump’s club.
The Trump Organization has also refused to agree with the federal government on a bulk-purchase agreement of rooms, then charging the maximum allowable federal rate for hotel rooms.
There is now an ongoing lawsuit between the nonprofit transparency group Property of the People and the federal government. Property of the People released emails and receipts to ProPublica. The State Department is also expected to release another 1,800 pages of records from the lawsuit.
“Mar-a-Lago wanted to have the government money without the government rules,” said Charles Tiefer, a law professor at the University of Baltimore.
“Mar-a-Lago didn’t want to compete, they wanted to sneak around the requirements, and charge much higher prices than the competition,” said Tiefer, who was also deputy general counsel with the House of Representatives for 11 years. “It’s not the first time in history that vendors have tried to get around the rules by charging individual components. This is familiar to every contracting officer. And it’s wrong. It’s not just a technicality. It’s not a game. The only safeguard the public has against the Trumps swallowing up all the government business is at least minimal competition.”
Many other experts agree that the State Department is using loopholes in government spending rules.
“It’s one of the biggest fears coming true, that they are bending over backwards to help the Trump Organization,” said Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project On Government Oversight. “I’m frustrated the State Department would exploit the system to bill Uncle Sam and the taxpayers. To have the government bicker to get a 10% discount shows the Trump Organization isn’t putting the American public first. It’s a worst-case scenario when it comes to conflicts of interest, with the president and his children putting themselves and profits ahead of the public.”
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