WASHINGTON — There was a private bourbon tasting with Sen. Rand Paul, the opportunity to see Rudy Giuliani broadcast his radio show live from the lobby, and a chance to snap a picture with prime-time convention speakers.
Throughout the four-day Republican National Convention, social media posts showed convention speakers, lawmakers, donors and devoted Trump supporters gathered at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, sparking criticism that the president may be profiting off his position and raising questions over coronavirus safety.
“I just kind of came here to the city to be around it all,” said Joseph Belnome of New Jersey, a Trump supporter who stayed at the hotel during the RNC. “I was just eating my eggs and Rudy Giuliani was sitting right across from me, it was great.”
Trump’s real-estate company came to a 60-year lease agreement in 2013 for the Old Post Office building, which is federally owned and sits just down the street from the White House. Trump’s company spent $200 million to convert the national landmark into a high-end hotel, opening it to guests just a few months before the 2017 inauguration.
Trump has said his sons Eric and Don Jr. are running the company while he serves as president, and he has made no move to divest from the company.
Conventions are traditionally a big party and Trump supporters weren’t going to let the pandemic stop them from a celebration again this year.
Images of a cocktail party in the hotel ballroom were posted to Instagram stories ahead of Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday night.
The hotel was full of senior campaign aides.
Campaign adviser Katrina Pierson posted pictures of a panel discussion she participated in at the hotel with Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is dating one of the president’s sons, and senior advisor Mercedes Schlapp. Supporters took pictures of Lara Trump as she left the hotel en route to give her convention speech.
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“Getting amped up and ready for my speech,” Donald Trump Jr. said in an Instagram Monday from the hotel.
“This was Republican central,” said Danielle Butler, a lawyer from Florida who traveled to Washington to attend Trump’s nomination speech and stayed at the Trump International with her family. “We just sat there and it was like a revolving door of who’s who in the Republican Party.”
Even Trump made a visit to his hotel on Thursday, attending a closed-door fundraiser that the Republican National Committee said raised $10 million for his re-election.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones, former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and others, were all seen at the Trump hotel throughout the week, according to social media posts and interviews with hotel guests.
“I’m talking to you live from Washington, D.C., from the Trump International Hotel, where the Republican National Convention has now really been located,” Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, said Tuesday on his radio show.
The Trump hotel was open only to guests and pre-approved visitors throughout the week of the RNC. Rooms were sold out, costing nearly $800 a night for a standard room. Nearby luxury hotels were offering rooms at a significantly lower rate.
“Everyone knew, pandemic or not, the Tump hotel would be absolutely full of people from Trump world and people who wanted to influence Trump world,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the liberal group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “There’s a tendency to spike the rates whenever there’s going to be something political surrounding it.”
Libowitz said CREW has documented multiple occasions of the Trump Hotel raising prices around big events such as Trump’s inauguration, his Fourth of July celebration and a major Republican fundraiser. The hotel is already sold out for the Nov. 3 election night, Libowitz said.
“If President Trump has a chance to profit off things, he absolutely will.”
Political committees, including the Trump campaign and the Republican Party, have spent more than $22 million at the president’s properties since he announced his candidacy in 2015, according to a tally from the Center for Responsive Politics.
“Aside from the fact that donors enjoy visiting Trump properties, other factors like security, price, and convenience are all part of the committee’s decision-making process,” said GOP spokesperson Mandi Merritt when asked for details about the numerous events hosted at the hotel this week.
The Trump campaign did not respond to NBC New’s request for comment.
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Republicans moved their convention from Charlotte, N.C., to Jacksonville, Fla., after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper refused to suspend the state’s coronavirus restrictions to allow for a full-scale event. Republicans scrapped the Jacksonville plans as the virus in Florida worsened and ultimately moved nearly the entire convention at the last minute to Washington.
The GOP has come under criticism this week for flouting coronavirus guidelines throughout the week’s events.
First lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence delivered their convention speeches to an in-person crowd and Trump welcomed 1,500 guests to the White House for his acceptance speech where social distancing was ignored and few wore face masks.
Washington’s coronavirus guidelines currently restrict gatherings to 50 people and require hotel employees and guests to wear face coverings in common spaces. Many of the photos on social media showed guests flouting these rules.
The Republican National Committee said appropriate precautions were taken for the fundraiser Trump attended.
“The event site was professionally cleaned and sanitized prior to the event. The White House Medical Unit and U.S. Secret Service evaluated all attendees in order for them to gain access to the event. All attendees tested negative for COVID-19 on the day of the event, completed a wellness questionnaire, and passed a temperature screening,” the RNC said.
Despite images on social media, some guests said they felt necessary precautions were met, telling NBC that the hotel bar closed down at midnight and tables were limited to no more than six people. After months of social distancing and isolation, many also said they found their stay at Trump International to be a welcomed escape from the realities of the pandemic.
“It’s on oasis,” said Belnome. “You can’t stop us. We’re still going to get together and support him.”
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