Pence lands in controversy with stay at Trump hotel

Vice President Pence’s office is engulfed in controversy set off by his two-night stay in Ireland at one of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE’s family properties.

Pence stayed at Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Doonbeg on Ireland’s west coast despite his meetings the same day in Dublin, which is on Ireland’s east side and 182 miles away.

The curious decision also came with a shifting story about why Pence ended up at Trump's property in Doonbeg.

ADVERTISEMENT

The vice president’s chief of staff said Trump had suggested Pence stay at the Doonbeg golf club, though Pence’s office later that day said the decision was entirely the vice president’s.

The controversy lingered on cable news and other outlets as Pence’s office and Trump delivered conflicting messages.

“I heard he was going there, but it wasn’t my idea for Mike to go there,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday. “Mike went there because his family’s there. That’s my understanding of it.”

The move embroiled the vice president in a rare controversy as he seeks to solidify his place in the future of the GOP, and it alarmed critics already convinced Trump has used the presidency to bolster his business.

“This may not technically be illegal, but it’s an atrocious abuse of power to line the president’s pockets, and it’s a continuation of two years of profiteering by President Trump,” said Walter ShaubWalter Michael ShaubPence lands in controversy with stay at Trump hotel Ex-ethics chief rips Trump July 4 event as 'taxpayer-funded campaign ad' Here are the top paid White House staffers MORE, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics who resigned in July 2017.

“The White House wants to quibble over whether the president suggested it or the vice president thought it up … but what’s clear is that the president has set a tone all along that the use of his properties is not only allowed but encouraged,” Shaub added.

It was notable that Pence, who has dutifully defended the president through a churn of controversies, stumbled into one of his own by spending two nights at the Trump hotel in Doonbeg.

The president’s denial of any involvement in the arrangement came a day after Pence’s top aide told reporters Trump had suggested he use the property and hours after the vice president’s office clarified that the president never directed the lodging choice.

The vice president was already scheduled to visit Ireland, Iceland and London this week when Trump asked him at the last minute to take his place during a weekend trip to Poland while he monitored Hurricane Dorian.

Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, told reporters on Tuesday that Trump had suggested the vice president could stay at his property during the trip to Ireland but that it was not a “request” or a “command.” 

The vice president’s office later sought to more explicitly distance Trump from the decisionmaking process, saying the resort was chosen because of its accommodations in close proximity to Pence’s ancestral hometown and that "at no time did the President direct our office to stay at his Doonbeg resort." Asked whether he suggested Pence stay at the property, Trump told reporters Wednesday, "I don’t suggest anything."

Critics questioned the logistics of utilizing the Trump property given it necessitated a roughly 90-minute commute via plane to Dublin for meetings with Ireland’s president and prime minister when Pence could have stayed in the Irish capital.

But the vice president defended the move and told reporters it was personally important for him to spend at least one night in Doonbeg because of his family ties to the area. 

“I understand political attacks by Democrats, but if you have a chance to get to Doonbeg, you’ll find it’s a fairly small place, and the opportunity to stay at Trump National in Doonbeg, to accommodate the unique footprint that comes with our security detail and other personnel, made it logical,” he said.

Short also said the original plan was not for Pence to travel back and forth from Doonbeg to Dublin for official meetings Tuesday but that a late change to his schedule by Trump forced them to make the travel change because it was not possible for Secret Service to clear another hotel in Dublin in time. 

Ethics officials viewed Pence’s use of the Doonbeg property as part of a broader pattern from the Trump administration to utilize the president’s properties and look the other way when confronted with accusations of conflicts of interest.

Trump opted not to place his assets in a blind trust when he took office, instead turning over control of his company to his two adult sons. Democrats have accused the president of violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits elected officials from receiving gifts or benefits from foreign governments without congressional approval.

The Doonbeg controversy came roughly a week after Trump floated his Doral golf property in Miami as a likely choice to host the next Group of Seven summit when the United States hosts it in 2020, leading to a flood of criticism from Democrats and accusations that it raised emoluments issues. 

During his first term thus far, Trump has visited his properties in Bedminster, N.J.; New York City; Palm Beach, Fla.; Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.; Turnberry, Scotland; and Doonbeg.

When he stayed at Doonbeg earlier this year during his own stop in Ireland, the resort tweeted out video of Trump golfing but quickly took it down after critics pointed out it was using the president’s stay to promote the property.

The controversy involving Pence underscored the degree to which Trump’s brand and potential business conflicts hover over the administration and highlight how officials might seek to earn favor with a president who puts a premium on loyalty.

Tim Miller, a Republican political operative and Trump critic, said he didn’t expect the controversy to impact Pence in the long run but said it was an example of the vice president catching criticism for practicing “obsequious loyalty” to Trump. 

“Whether Trump demanded that he do it or whether Trump implied that he might want to do it or whether Pence was just doing it to suck up, the bottom line is tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent to enrich Trump’s family for no purpose, for no benefit,” Miller said. 

Separately, Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrFeehery: Impeachment fever bad for Democratic governing vision Trump awards Yankees legend Mariano Rivera the Medal of Freedom Supreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration MORE will pay a reported $30,000 to host a private holiday party at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Trump on Wednesday said he hadn’t spoken with Barr about the engagement.

The hotel has become a magnet for lobbyists and international power brokers attempting to find an in with the Trump administration, and Trump has hosted the leaders of Japan and China at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

“I’m not sure how well the ethics program is going to hold up over time if the president continues to misuse public office for his private gain, and then that trickles down to the vice president and then Cabinet officials and lower-level appointees,” said Shaub, who now serves as a senior adviser to the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

In asserting he had no part in Pence’s stay in Doonbeg, Trump illustrated the concerns of many ethics watchdogs and Democrats by pairing his denial with a pseudo-advertisement for his brand.

“I have a lot of hotels all over the place, and people use them because they’re the best,” he said.

“People like my product. What can I tell you? Can’t help it,” he continued. “But, you know, I guess they say we want to stay at a place that’s better than someplace else.”