British Columbia

Expenses for Trump family trips to Vancouver tower raise conflict-of-interest concerns

Trips taken by U.S. President Donald Trump and his children to the Trump Tower in Vancouver may have resulted in a conflict of interest, a watchdog group is alleging.

U.S. president's and family's stays at Trump-branded hotel are problematic, says U.S.-based watchdog

The Trump International Hotel and Tower Vancouver opened in February 2017. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Trips taken by U.S. President Donald Trump and his children to the Trump Tower in Vancouver may have resulted in a conflict of interest, a watchdog group is alleging.

More than $25,000 was spent by the Federal Protective Service over two separate trips to B.C. in 2017 — including the opening of the tower in February 2017 — and while the protection of the president and his family is required, their stays at a Trump-branded hotel is problematic, according to the U.S.-based Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Soon after Trump was sworn in as U.S. president, he and his children flew to Vancouver for the grand opening of the Trump International Hotel and Tower in February 2017.

During the trip, the Federal Protective Service spent just over $20,000 at the Trump International Hotel and Tower Vancouver, according to an FOI request made by CREW to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In August of that year, Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr., flew to Canada to hunt stone sheep in the Yukon. On his way north, $5,700 was spent at the Vancouver hotel by his security detail, according to documents obtained by Politico.

The Trump Tower in Vancouver is owned by Holborn Group and only licenses the Trump brand name, according to the owner. It is, therefore, no part of the Trump organization's holdings. 

Donald Trump gives the thumbs-up during a visit to Vancouver with sons Donald, Jr. and Eric and daughter Ivanka in 2013, before the tower branded with his name was built. (The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward)

But the visits to the Arthur Erickson-designed building, which is still emblazoned with the Trump name and is bound to follow brand and service style standards, remains concerning to the group that dug up the records. 

"It still becomes somewhat of a promotion for the hotel and for the Trump brand in general by them staying there," said Jordan Libowitz of CREW.

It's consistent with a wider concern with Trump that there is a "blurring of the lines" between his personal assets and the government.

Past presidents put their money in blind trusts, but Trump has repeatedly refused to do so. 

Requests for comment to the White House about this were not returned.

According to Jamie Raskin, a member of the House Oversight Committee, the U.S. Constitution says the president can't receive federal dollars other than his salary.

Raskin, who is taking a closer look at how tax dollars are being spent on Trump interests, says federal agencies spending money at Trump-owned hotels is a potential conflict.

He questions Trump's regular trips to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate — which is now nicknamed the southern White House — which he says cost U.S. taxpayers $75,000 each time.

Past presidents used the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

"The Trump family is basically taking the position that members of the Trump family could spend every day of the year at a different Trump hotel, property, golf course or spa and have the secret service stay with them and there would be no problem with that," said Raskin.

Raskin says there are no issues with Trump's progeny staying at the Vancouver tower, as long as the president does not profit from it.  

Joo Kim Tiah, CEO and president of Holborn Group, right, shakes hands with Donald Trump in 2013 in Vancouver. (The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward)

Details of the deal between Holborn Group and the Trump organization over Vancouver's Trump Tower are private.

CBC sent a request for clarification, but has yet to receive a reply.

In the past, referring to Holborn CEO Joo Kim Tiah, the company has told media: "Holborn Group's and Joo Kim Tiah's business relationship with the Trump organization extends only to brand licensing and hotel management for the development of Trump International Hotel and Tower Vancouver."

In an emailed statement to CBC, Tiah said: "I would think secret service protection for the president's family is and has been a norm for all past presidents."

During the Trump family's February 2017 trip to Vancouver, secret service agents also spent more than $6,000 at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver.

During Trump Jr.'s visit in August 2017, an additional $8,500 was spent at other hotels, and another $2,300 was spent on undisclosed expenses, according to the documents obtained by Politico — amounting to a total bill of $16,500.

Vancouver's Trump Tower has drawn controversy from its inception, with critics questioning its height, before the grand opening drew protests.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Donald Trump, Jr. spent $20,000 at Trump Tower in Vancouver on his way to hunt in the Yukon. In fact, $20,000 was spent by the Federal Protective Service at the Vancouver Trump Tower during the Trump family's visit for the building's grand opening in February 2017. An additional $5,700 was spent by security agents at the Trump Tower in August 2017 when Donald Trump, Jr. travelled to Canada for a hunting trip.
    Aug 15, 2019 7:51 AM PT

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@CBC.ca @ybrend

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