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Watchdog Group Says Trump Profited From Pence Trip To Ireland


Vice President Mike Pence's trip to Ireland this week has prompted questions because of where he stayed - one of the president's hotels. Here's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Before taking office, President Trump promised he would step away from his business while in office. He stood on a stage in New York City by a stack of manila envelopes and explained that he was turning over, quote, "complete and total control" of his business to his sons.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They're not going to discuss it with me.

ORDOÑEZ: But Trump has kept his stake in his companies. And 2 1/2 years into his term, the president continues to promote his properties with high-profile visits. He recently suggested his Miami golf resort could be the site of the next G-7 summit. All this has raised more questions about whether Trump is profiting off the presidency. When asked about Pence's visit at his Irish golf resort, this is what the president had to say.


TRUMP: I have a lot of hotels all over the place. And people use them because they're the best. I mean, you know, they're the best.

ORDOÑEZ: Pence dismissed the criticism as a political attack. He said it made sense for him to stay at the Trump resort in Doonbeg. He was already planning a visit to the town where his great-grandmother was from.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The opportunity to stay at Trump National (ph) in Doonbeg to accommodate the unique footprint that comes with our security detail and other personnel made it logical.

ORDOÑEZ: Ryan Shapiro of the watchdog group Property of the People says Trump is openly violating laws that prohibit the president from accepting government payments beyond his official salary.

RYAN SHAPIRO: We have a receipt showing the DOD spending over $138,000 a Mar-a-Lago. We have a receipt showing that U.S. taxpayers paid for a $1,000-plus liquor bill at Mar-a-Lago.

ORDOÑEZ: Showing up at Trump properties has become common for top officials. According to data collected by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Pence has made over 20 visits to Trump properties since January 2017. So has Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has made 16 visits. Then there's Attorney General William Barr, who is footing the bill for an expensive holiday party at the Trump Hotel in D.C.

Jordan Libowitz is with that group, and he says taxpayers should be concerned even when they are not paying the tab.

JORDAN LIBOWITZ: This is a much bigger issue than just Mike Pence. This is a blending of the presidential administration and the president's private, personal profits.

ORDOÑEZ: Trump says he's actually losing money.


TRUMP: In a combination of loss and opportunity, probably it'll cost me anywhere from $3 billion to $5 billion to be president.

ORDOÑEZ: Those numbers may be inflated, but it does appear that at least some of Trump's properties are losing business. Austin Evers of the group American Oversight makes this point. During the campaign, Trump said he didn't care about making money. But that's not how he's governed.

AUSTIN EVERS: Instead, what we see is a president obsessed with driving business to his property to the tune of making sure that the G-7 comes to Florida next year to honor him and to honor his properties.

ORDOÑEZ: For Evers, the question is not whether Trump is making a profit but whether the president is breaking the law.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.