As American Oversight continues to hold the Trump administration accountable and expose corruption, our work has helped journalists further their investigations into conflicts of interest and unethical behavior–including government travel on taxpayer dime, the president’s refusal to divest from his businesses, and the administration’s flagrant disregard for transparency.
One of the most notable aspects of this administration is the way in which President Trump continues to use his position to profit from his businesses. Throughout 2017, American Oversight filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests investigating conflicts of interests associated with Trump’s business – including the State Department’s promotion of Mar-a-Lago on embassy websites and social media pages.
Our investigation forced the State Department to turn over more than 400 pages of records related to the creation, distribution, and ultimate retraction of a blog post highlighting the president’s private resort in Florida.
When the State Department published a glowing profile of President Donald Trump’s “winter White House” at Mar-a-Lago in April, they thought it would be a mundane bit of content that might attract a few foreign readers to U.S. embassy websites. Instead, staff found themselves embroiled in a heated controversy over the use of government resources to promote the president’s private business interests, according to a review of internal emails.
The post from ShareAmerica, a news and information division of the State Department, provided a brief history of the Mar-a-Lago property and noted Trump’s use of his club early in his presidency to host high-level meetings with foreign leaders.
President Trump’s unethical behavior sets a low bar for his appointees. From taxpayer funded travel on government jets to unnecessary office renovations, Trump’s administration seems to follow in his footsteps.
American Oversight’s executive director, Austin Evers, highlighted some of these issues in interviews with outlets including The New York Times, NPR, and Newsweek.
American Oversight’s Executive Director spoke about conflicts of interest, ethics violations, cronyism, and the first year of Trump on KCRW. This last year has made it clear that Donald Trump is available to be bought. And the president’s failure to divest has led to immoral behavior and unnecessary spending on behalf of cabinet members. Listen here.
Evers also spoke on NPR about the fact that even though several Trump properties are making less money, the properties Trump frequents are making up for those loses. This is because despite the falling popularity of the Trump brand, the president continues to use his position to his advantage as he meets with lobbyists and diplomats at his own properties.
See more on how Trump uses his position for monetary and personal gain.
“Some of his businesses around the world are not doing particularly well, but the ones he frequents as president are doing better than ever,” says Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, a D.C.-based accountability organization. He says golf courses where Trump plays regularly, in New Jersey and Virginia, are doing well.
“You see that at the Trump International Hotel, which got to raise rates in 2017 and went from predicting that it would run a loss to turning a profit. … You also see increased profits at Mar-a-Lago, which the president has rebranded as the ‘winter White House,’ ” he says.
American Oversight is investigating the decision to award a $300 million dollar contract to restore power in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria to a small company with potential ties to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Although the contract was eventually pulled, we still need answers.
He immediately came under withering criticism and congressional and federal review for awarding a $300 million contract to a small private company from Montana, Whitefish Energy Holdings, to help repair the grid. Prepa had agreed to pay $319 an hour for electrical linemen; the average salary in Puerto Rico for that work is $19 an hour. The authority later canceled the contract, even while defending it.
Mr. Ramos faced a skeptical Senate hearing on Tuesday. Lawmakers were hesitant to approve the governor’s request for $94 billion in aid while questions remained unanswered about the power grid contract. Mr. Ramos told lawmakers that there had been no kickbacks, but acknowledged that the company had long been rife with political patronage, and that up to half of the employees were the family members of politicians.
Since his appointment, Secretary Ryan Zinke’s behavior has raised questions about his management of Interior and his use of taxpayer resources. His conduct has ranged from taxpayer funded flights on government aircrafts to allowing his wife to be involved in government business and tag along on trips.
Lolita Zinke was originally scheduled to return to Washington, DC, from Alaska on a military flight, but she requested to stay in Alaska longer with her husband as he was set to attend a Memorial Day ceremony. “Mrs. Zinke prolonged her trip because the Senator invited her to participate in the Rolling Thunder ride and ceremony,” Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, said in an email.
Swift added that Lolita Zinke had paid for her own commercial flight back home from Alaska.
The documents show that after an advance staffer learned that Lolita Zinke would be departing at a different date than previously scheduled, the staffer emailed with another staffer: “UGH! We have all kinds of planes, trains and automobiles manifests to now scramble with.”