AG Barr books hol­i­day party at ho­tel that ben­e­fits Trump

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Jonathan O’Connell and David A. Fahren­thold

WASH­ING­TON — Last month, U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr booked Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s D.C. ho­tel for a 200-per­son hol­i­day party in De­cem­ber that is likely to de­liver Trump’s busi­ness more than $30,000 in rev­enue.

Barr signed a con­tract, a copy of which was ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Post, for a “Fam­ily Hol­i­day Party” in the ho­tel’s Pres­i­den­tial Ball­room Dec. 8.

The party will fea­ture a buf­fet and four-hour open bar for about 200 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the con­tract.

Barr is pay­ing for the event him­self and chose the venue only af­ter other ho­tels, in­clud­ing the Wil­lard and the Mayflower were booked, ac­cord­ing to a Depart­ment of Jus­tice of­fi­cial.

Barr holds the bash an­nu­ally, and it com­bines hol­i­day fes­tiv­i­ties and a “ceilidh,” a party fea­tur­ing Ir­ish or Scot­tish mu­sic.

“Ca­reer ethics of­fi­cials were con­sulted and they de­ter­mined that ethics rules did not pro­hibit him from host­ing his an­nual party at the Trump ho­tel,” said the of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

Barr’s de­ci­sion to book the ho­tel marks the lat­est col­li­sion be­tween Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and his busi­ness, which the pres­i­dent no longer op­er­ates but from which he still ben­e­fits fi­nan­cially.

Trump said Mon­day that he was likely to hold next year’s Group of Seven in­ter­na­tional sum­mit at his golf re­sort in Do­ral, Florida. Al­ready the fed­eral government and GOP cam­paigns have spent at least $1.6 mil­lion at his prop­er­ties since he en­tered of­fice, ac­cord­ing to a Post anal­y­sis, though the ac­tual fig­ure is likely to be higher be­cause of the dif­fi­culty of ob­tain­ing up-to-date records.

Barr, the na­tion’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial, has pre­vi­ously made mis­lead­ing state­ments re­gard­ing spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s re­port that echoed those of Trump, lead­ing ex­perts to ques­tion Barr’s independen­ce from the pres­i­dent.

“It cre­ates the ap­pear­ance that high-level po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees or al­lies of the pres­i­dent may feel like they need to spend money at the pres­i­dent’s busi­nesses as a show of loy­alty, and that is some­thing that makes me deeply un­com­fort­able and should make tax­pay­ers deeply un­com­fort­able,” said Liz Hem­pow­icz, di­rec­tor of public pol­icy at the non­profit Project on Government Oversight.

The Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion de­clined to com­ment.

Barr’s de­ci­sion to book the Trump ho­tel is note­wor­thy be­cause Jus­tice Depart­ment at­tor­neys are de­fend­ing the pres­i­dent’s busi­ness in court. Trump’s D.C. ho­tel has hosted a num­ber of for­eign gov­ern­ments as clients, busi­ness that has gen­er­ated two law­suits, one from the at­tor­neys gen­eral of Mary­land and D.C. and the other from about 200 Demo­cratic mem­bers of Congress.

Both cases are be­ing con­sid­ered in fed­eral court, and the Jus­tice Depart­ment is de­fend­ing the pres­i­dent’s po­si­tion that he has not run afoul of the an­ti­cor­rup­tion pro­vi­sions in the Con­sti­tu­tion called the do­mes­tic and for­eign emol­u­ments clauses.

D.C. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Karl Racine, a Demo­crat, a plain­tiff in one of the emol­u­ments cases against Trump, said Barr’s plans make him fear “that all this does is it nor­mal­izes con­duct of pres­i­den­tial sup­port­ers or would-be sup­port­ers, who clearly know a clear av­enue to curry fa­vor with the pres­i­dent and that is to do busi­ness with the pres­i­dent’s busi­ness.”

White House aides, in­clud­ing inside the White House Coun­sel’s Of­fice, have warned Trump and Cabi­net of­fi­cials against mak­ing of­fi­cial vis­its to his prop­er­ties.

Barr’s event falls into a dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory.

It isn’t an of­fi­cial event — it’s a party.

Wal­ter Shaub, a for­mer di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Government Ethics who has been a critic of Trump’s ethics record, called Barr’s de­ci­sion to book Trump’s ho­tel “one of those things that doesn’t vi­o­late the rules, but it’s re­ally trou­bling.”

“He keeps send­ing sig­nals that his loy­alty is to a politi­cian and not to the coun­try,” Shaub said. “And it’s part of an on­go­ing ero­sion of cred­i­bil­ity at the Depart­ment of Jus­tice.”

OLIVIER DOULIERY/ABACA PRESS

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr has booked a party Dec. 8 at the ho­tel. A critic called the booking “re­ally trou­bling.”

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