The White House and Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment. But Trump has repeatedly denied that he is using the presidency to promote his resorts. “I have a lot of hotels all over the place, and people, they use them because they’re the best,” he told reporters recently.
Trump ignored calls to fully separate from his eponymous company, which comprises more than 500 businesses, after he was sworn into office. He still owns his business but placed his holdings in a trust designed to hold assets for his benefit and can receive money from the trust without the public’s knowledge.
Foreign leaders know that. And as they have gotten to know Trump, they have learned to regularly mention his properties in what appear to be attempts to flatter him.
In June 2018, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave Trump a photo of his family’s first property in that country as a gift. In July, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky told Trump he had stayed in Trump Tower in New York in theirinfamous call.
And this year, in another meeting with the Irish leader, it was the prime minister who first mentioned a Trump property when he asked during an Oval Office meeting about whether the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York passes Trump Tower.
Trump laughed and replied that it did. “I used to watch it all the time,” Trump told him. “I would watch it all the time. So you’ll be there on Saturday?”
A former senior administration official said Trump likes talking about his properties with foreign leaders — “not necessarily” to boost his businesses but to display dominance. “It’s literally to show how big and powerful I am,” the person said. “It’s bragging rights.”
Trump has invited the leaders of seven countries — Japan, China, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic — to meet with him at Mar-a-Lago, the resort he has dubbed the Winter White House. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been twice to Mar-a-Lago, which he described to Trump as “gorgeous” in 2017 and 2018, staying overnight at least once as apersonal giftfrom Trump, though the Japanese government didn’t answer questions about the second visit. He also has been to Trump National Golf Club in Virginia, Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter and Trump Tower, according to 1100 Pennsylvania, which tracks visits to Trump properties.
The White House, State Department and other governments didn’t respond to questions about whether other leaders stayed overnight.
An official who worked for Trump after he was elected during the transition acknowledged that Trump mentioned his properties regularly in conversations with leaders but not to get them to stay there. “He’s just trying to relate,” the person said. “He’s looking for issues of commonality, just trying to personally connect with someone.”
Trump reportedly asked the president of Argentina to help with permitting problem in Buenos Aires in their first call after the election and spoke to the prime minister of Georgia about his failed development at a White House meeting, according to media reports, but the three former officials say it goes beyond that.
Filipino ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez, who held an independence day celebration at Trump’s hotel in Washington, said the location made a statement, according toFilipino media. “Having it in a hotel that happens to have his name is not necessarily the end-all be-all, it’s a statement. It’s a statement that we have a good relationship with this president,” he said.
Trump frequently visits his properties — primarily in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia — and has traveled to them more than 300 times since he was sworn into office, according to a compilation of information released by the White House. He’s visited his resorts both in Scotland and Ireland, and even considered canceling his trip to Ireland when the prime minister scoffed at meeting at his golf course, the Irish Times reported.
When he was running for president, Trump acknowledged the influence his customers have with him. “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them,” he said in 2016. “They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them?”
His company donated nearly $200,000 to the U.S. Treasury in February that it said came from profits from foreign governments, but watchdog groups say the amount should be higher.
Revenue increased at many of the resorts Trump visited in 2018, including the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which has become a top destination for Republicans, according to Trump’s most recent personal financial disclosure forms. That comes even as Trump’s overall income dipped slightly from $450 million in 2017 to $434 million in 2018.
In January, Trump ran into Kurdish Leader Ilham Ahmed at his Washington hotel, where the president was attending a fundraiser and proclaimed the U.S. would not abandon the Kurds. ”I love the Kurds,” Trump said.
But two weeks ago, Trump reversed course in Syria, moving U.S. troops from northern Syria, leaving the Kurds to take on Turkey alone and some questioning whether his business was a factor.
Trump made the decision after a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who attended the opening of Trump’s towers in Istanbul in 2012. Since Trump was sworn into office, at least five events affiliated with the Turkish government have been held at Trump properties.
In 2015, Trump acknowledged his properties posed a conflict of interest in Turkey — though he denies they do now.
“I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul,” he said on a Breitbart radio show. “It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers.”
Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.