Trump plan for hotel profits blasted by top Democrat

Legal experts: Trump's business plan falls short
Legal experts: Trump's business plan falls short

A Trump Organization plan to donate foreign hotel profits to avoid conflicts of interest doesn't go far enough, a top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee said Wednesday.

The committee was given documents by the company in April that outline a plan to donate to the U.S. Treasury any profits made from foreign governments. Critics say payments from foreign governments to Trump's companies violate the Constitution.

In a letter to the Trump Organization's chief compliance lawyer, Representative Elijah Cummings said the pamphlet "raises grave concerns."

"You provided only a single document -- a glossy, eight-page pamphlet that contains a total of 40 sentences," Cummings wrote. "Complying with the United States Constitution is not an optional exercise, but a requirement for serving as our nation's president."

The Trump Organization said in a statement: "We have received and are in the process of reviewing the letter. We take these matters seriously and are fully committed to complying with all of our legal and ethical obligations."

Related: Trump's foreign profits plan is doable, but experts say it's an ethical minefield

An attorney for Trump made the donation pledge during a press conference in January that laid out a plan meant to isolate the president from his business and prevent conflicts of interest.

Trump said at the time he would not give up ownership of his hotels. Ethics lawyers said the decision would put Trump in violation of a constitutional clause that bars federal officeholders from accepting a "present, emolument, office or title" from a foreign country.

The Trump Organization told lawmakers it would "track and identify" revenues received from three distinct sources: direct billings from a Trump owned property to a foreign government, payments tied to banquet and catering business and all payments received by check or electronic payment from a "reasonable identifiably foreign government entity."

But the Trump Organization concedes that it's hard to determine whether certain payments are foreign in nature.

It said in the pamphlet that it is "impractical" to require all guests to identify themselves -- a policy that would "impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand."

That means the Trump Organization wouldn't attempt to identify people who haven't specifically said they represent a foreign government.

The plan, Cummings noted, also doesn't appear to capture indirect payments by foreign governments through third parties.

According to the pamphlet, some foreign governments can operate through "state-owned and state-controlled entities" in industries like defense, banking and finance.

The Trump Organization wrote that those operations "may not be included in our calculation of profit to be donated."

Related: What Trump is really doing about his business

Cummings said in his letter that if identifying all sources of foreign payments was too great a challenge, Trump should either divest his ownership or ask and obtain permission from Congress to accept that money.

Noah Bookbinder, the director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, was skeptical of the Trump Organization plan.

"There's all kinds of room for shenanigans in terms of determining what actually is profit, " said Bookbinder, whose organization is suing Trump over the alleged constitutional violation. He said the best solution would be to not take any foreign business.

"And the best way to do that is for him to truly disassociate himself from his business entirely, to sell the businesses," he added.

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