AG Barr books holiday party at hotel that benefits Trump
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.”
Attorney General William Barr has booked a party Dec. 8 at the hotel. A critic called the booking “really troubling.”