Menendez raises concerns about Trump hotel dispute in Panama

Menendez raises concerns about Trump hotel dispute in Panama
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats pledge to fight Trump detention policy during trip to border Pompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report Dem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors MORE (D-N.J.) is raising questions about President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller MORE's possible conflicts of interest in Panama, after lawyers for his private company asked the country's president to intervene in a dispute over a luxury hotel there.

In a series of letters sent to Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the Trump Organization and the U.S. Embassy in Panama, Menendez expressed concern that lawyers representing the Trump Organization may have sought to exert undue political influence in an effort to regain the company's control of the Trump International Hotel and Tower.

"Even if the Panamanian government rightfully refuses to intercede in the judicial proceedings, the letter’s threatening tone may suggest to the Panamanian government that improper, and perhaps illegal, actions are effective means of influencing U.S policy toward the country," Menendez wrote in the letter to the Trump Organization.

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"Furthermore, the letter gives the American and Panamanian publics new reason to question whether any future government actions that benefit your firm’s operations in Panama do so at the expense of the public interest."

Media reports surfaced last month that a law firm representing the Trump Organization sent a letter to Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela in March, asking him to intervene in a legal battle for control of the hotel and warned that there could be consequences for the country. 

The letter acknowledged the "separation of powers" in Panama, but also warned Varela that the hotel dispute "has repercussions for the Panamanian state."

In his letters to Ross and the U.S. Embassy, Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sought guarantees that the U.S. government has taken actions to mitigate concerns that the Trump Organization has received special treatment because of its links to the president.

"I expect that the Commerce Department will treat the Trump Organization no differently than it would any other private U.S. business, and will take every effort to avoid any perception of special treatment or a conflict of interest," Menendez wrote in his letter to Ross.

Trump retained ownership of the Trump Organization after taking office last year, but handed off day-to-day management of the company to his two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric.

Since taking office, Trump has faced a number of allegations of conflicts of interest related to his business dealings, many of which have centered around his Washington, D.C. hotel, which sits blocks away from the White House.