The Trump Organization opened its latest property in Washington, D.C., on Monday, four years after they first secured the rights—after Donald Trump and his children all donated as much as they could to D.C.’s mayor and representative in Congress, who were instrumental in the hotel’s development.
In February of 2012, the federal government announced that Donald Trump’s organization had won a bid to turn the Old Post Office Pavilion, located on Pennsylvania Avenue just a few blocks from the White House, into a new luxury hotel, which had its soft opening this week. Ivanka Trump, the mogul’s daughter, was put in charge of the project.
“The Trump Organization is committed to making this the finest luxury hotel in the world and we think the building’s location and historic nature will allow us to do that,” the younger Trump said in an interview with The Washington Post just after the rights were announced.
Months later, money began to pour in from the Trump family to two politicians with prominent roles in the hotel development project: Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
While the Trumps are notorious for doling out heaps of money to politicians on both sides of the aisle, D.C. politicians hadn’t been recipients in the past. And the timing of the contributions leads to “an appearance issue,” as one campaign finance lawyer described it—one enhanced by recent revelations about the Trump Foundation’s attempts to curry favor with politicians.
“There’s no evidence of anything illegal about it,” Lawrence Noble of the Campaign Legal Center told The Daily Beast. But, he said, it’s not a good look.
“The closer you are to doing something specifically for somebody,” he explained, “the more it raises ethical questions.”
In June 2012, Ivanka Trump sent a payment of $2,500 to Norton’s campaign committee, her first such contribution. The next two years, she sent the maximum $2,600.
Norton, according to a press release on her site, had been involved in a 15-year effort to get the General Services Administration, an independent agency meant to support the functioning of federal agencies, to redevelop the Old Post Office building. In 2008, Norton introduced a bill called the Old Post Office Development Act which would allow for a new occupant of the long-vacant building near the White House. Because of her bill, the GSA was able to begin the process of seeking out proposals for renovating the space in 2011. The final lease agreement between the GSA and the Trump Organization was reached in June of 2013.
“Norton pressed for the deal to get done in time for the congressionally mandated layover period to elapse before the start of the August recess,” a press release from her office read at the time. “The Trump Organization, led by Donald Trump, is now moving its own schedule forward to open the hotel by late 2015 or early 2016. Norton has spoken with Ivanka Trump, who leads the project, several times and today also spoke with Donald Trump.”
Less than three weeks later, Trump sent Norton $2,600, according to filings from the Federal Election Commission.
A spokesman for Norton dismissed the donations as completely ordinary.
“It is not unusual for businesses who build in the national capital region to contribute to Members of Congress,” communications director Benjamin Fritsch said in an email to The Daily Beast. “Congresswoman Norton was at the groundbreaking because of her role as the sponsor of the Old Post Office bill.”
On Aug. 5, 2013, the Trump Organization officially signed the lease, agreeing to pay the federal government a base rent of $250,000 for the next 60 years for the property. Initially, they requested not to pay D.C. taxes for the building, a request that was denied by D.C. Council Finance and Revenue Chairman Jack Evans. At the time, Ivanka Trump said that construction would begin on the hotel the following year.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the renovated complex took place on July 23, 2014, and the whole Trump family attended. Alongside them was Norton and Muriel Bowser, who was in the throes of a mayoral election campaign. Just over two weeks later, on Aug. 6, Ivanka Trump gave Norton another $2,600.
“We will produce one of the great hotels anywhere in the world in the most exciting location—between Congress and the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Donald Trump said at the announcement. “I promise you this will be a truly great, not only hotel, but economic development project.”
When Bowser took the microphone, she expressed how happy she was that the project could bring revitalization to the downtown area.
“I am certainly proud to represent over 600,000 people who want to have great economic development in every quadrant of our city,” Bowser said. “And today I am pleased to represent all of the members of the Council who are so proud of the resurgence, not only of downtown, but of every area of Washington.”
Just a few months prior to this groundbreaking ceremony, right after Bowser won the Democratic primary, Ivanka Trump made another D.C. contribution: the maximum of $2,000 to Bowser, according to financial filings.
In October, just a month before her mayoral election, Eric Trump—another major shareholder in the hotel—maxed out with another $2,000 to her election committee. And finally, once Bowser won her election in November 2014, Donald Trump himself gave $5,000 (the maximum allowed) to the new mayor’s D.C. Proud Inaugural Committee. Ivanka Trump later met with Bowser in 2015 for lunch.
That’s a total of $9,000, the maximum that could be legally contributed in a year, from the major players involved in the hotel to a mayor who’d been very friendly to their next big business venture.
The mayor’s office has not responded to a list of questions from The Daily Beast.
Ashley Nash-Hahn, the press secretary for the GSA, characterized the process for determining a future occupant of the building as “open, competitive, and transparent.” It was “among a number of interested offerors and [GSA] selected the one that provided the best value based on the public criteria. We also sent details of the agreement to Congress prior to final execution.”
To add to the intrigue in the timing of the contributions, Bowser’s opponent in the race, Councilmember and longshot David Catania, adamantly opposed the Trumps occupying the building all along.
Now in the private sector, Catania told The Daily Beast that he didn’t want to comment on the current mayor when asked whether he knew that the Trumps were giving money to Bowser.
He did not hold back on his criticism of Trump though.
“Among other things, I found Mr. Trump’s efforts to undermine the legitimacy of President Obama’s presidency, by aiding and supporting the ‘birther’ movement, to be disgraceful and dangerous,” Catania said in an email.
A representative for Ivanka Trump declined to comment on her contributions to Bowser and Norton—the only two local candidates in D.C. history to receive money from the Trumps.
Donald Trump has previously bragged about what his political contributions accomplish. “When you give,” he said in 2015, “they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”
He has also faced renewed scrutiny over an improper contribution the Trump Foundation gave to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013, at which time her office was considering an investigation into Trump University, for which Trump will be going to court later this year. In that instance too, both Ivanka and Donald Trump personally gave money to Bondi’s campaign.
Rooms are still available at the hotel for the 2017 inauguration. It remains to be seen if Donald Trump will be living down the street.