WASHINGTON — The Trump family, after nearly three years of controversy and legal fights, is considering selling its landmark Washington hotel a few blocks from the White House.
The 263-room Trump International Washington has become perhaps the most potent symbol of the appearance of conflict of interest during the Trump era, often hosting foreign diplomats, corporate executives and lobbyists and political groups, many of which are pushing the White House for policy actions or other favors.
In moving to offer the hotel for sale, the Trump family acknowledged this tension, even as it argued that the millions of dollars of business it has done at the hotel have not been a legitimate ethical issue for the White House.
“Since we opened our doors, we have received tremendous interest in this hotel and as real-estate developers, we are always willing to explore our options,” Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons, said in a statement on Friday. “People are objecting to us making so much money on the hotel, and therefore we may be willing to sell.”
The hotel opened in late 2016, just before Mr. Trump was elected president, and quickly became one of the single biggest sources of revenue for the Trump family, according to financial disclosures, collecting $40.8 million last year.
The president’s daughter Ivanka Trump, even while working in the White House, also retained a stake in the property, earning nearly $4 million from it last year.
The hotel in Washington is one of the few parts of the company that has seen major revenue growth since Mr. Trump took office.
It operates from a federal building known as the Old Post Office, and the space is leased by the Trump Organization from the government for 60 years. The Trump family spent $200 million renovating the huge Romanesque Revival structure, with its distinctive clock tower, which is still open to the public. Built from 1892 to 1899 to house the United States Post Office department headquarters and the city’s post office, it is the second-tallest building in Washington after the Washington Monument.
Any transfer of the lease would have to be approved by the federal General Services Administration, which awarded the deal to the Trump Organization after a competition among various bidders.
The hotel is central to lawsuits pending against the Trump Organization by at least three groups that argue Mr. Trump is violating the Constitution by accepting payments from foreign governments.
The Trump family has tried to address the emoluments issue by sending an annual payment to the Treasury Department for what it says are the profits from these payments by foreign governments, which it said totaled about $191,538 last year at the Washington hotel and other properties it owns, up from $151,470 the year before.
Eric Trump, in a statement about the potential sale, which was first reported on Friday by The Wall Street Journal, said the family had already done its part to address the questions about conflicts.
“Unlike every other hotel company, while our father is president of the United States, we have imposed voluntary restrictions and have chosen not to market, nor solicit, foreign government business during his time in office,” he said.
He added that the hotel had also at times turned away business from foreign governments, which he called “a major sacrifice, especially in a market dominated by foreign embassies, government patronage and international delegations.”
But the operations at the hotel have continued to draw criticism, as have the visits by foreign government officials, even if they are just buying drinks or dinner in the hotel’s atrium, which is filled on many nights with supporters of Mr. Trump, among other guests.
“The Trump D.C. hotel has embodied the conflicts of interest and self-enrichment schemes that pervade the Trump administration, easily the most corrupt in modern American history,” said Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, a group that has tracked millions of dollars in spending by political candidates, foreign governments and other politically connected groups at the hotel in Washington.
One nonprofit group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has tracked at least 694 visits to the hotel by executive branch officials, members of Congress and foreign government officials since Mr. Trump took office.
Democrats in Congress have also continued to question if it is even legal for Mr. Trump to serve simultaneously as both the owner of the hotel, through a family trust, and essentially as the landlord, through the General Services Administration.
A provision in the lease says that “no member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the government of the United States or the government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this lease,” which may prohibit the ownership arrangement. The lease was granted to Mr. Trump before he was elected president.
House Democrats this week sent a subpoena to the General Services Administration demanding that it provide documents addressing this question, which was first raised shortly after Mr. Trump was elected.
“Removing the Trump Organization from the lease of a taxpayer-owned building is a good place to start to ensure President Trump isn’t making a profit as both landlord and tenant of the Old Post Office Building,” Representative Peter A. DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon, who is chairman of the House committee that oversees the General Services Administration, said in a statement Friday.
“But given everything I’ve seen from dealing with this administration and the G.S.A. over the past two years,” Mr. DeFazio added. “I’m skeptical that this latest development isn’t an attempt to make a massive profit that directly benefits the Trump family so I will be following this marketing attempt closely.”
The Trump family has hired the real estate company JLL Hotels & Hospitality to help look for potential buyers of the hotel. But it did not address questions on Friday about why the family choose now to try to sell the hotel, or if it reflected any financial pressure on the Trump Organization, whose many other business operations have declined during Mr. Trump’s tenure in the White House.
Before the Trump Organization can sell, the deal will need to pass muster with the company’s outside ethics adviser, Bobby Burchfield, who is a lawyer in Washington.
Under an ethics plan adopted when Mr. Trump became president, Mr. Burchfield must verify that the deal is not unusually favorable to the Trumps — the price must reflect a “fair market value”— and that the buyer is not seeking to gain favor with the Trump administration, among other tests. The buyer cannot be a foreign official or sovereign wealth fund, but foreign citizens are not automatically prohibited from buying the hotel.
On Monday, the president addressed the loss of business at some of his family resorts, such as the Trump National Doral near Miami, which he had proposed, and then backed away from offering, as a site for the 2020 gathering of the Group of 7 world leaders.
“All of a sudden, people — some people — didn’t like it,” Mr. Trump said as he pointed to declines in sales at the Doral. “They thought the rhetoric was too tough, and it went from doing great to doing fine. It does very nicely now.“
Speaking more broadly about the effect of the presidency on his family businesses, he said: “Now instead of getting 100 percent of the market that loves you, and they love your brand, and it’s luxury and it’s great, now you have 50 percent of the market. That’s called politics. I fully understood that.”
The White House declined to comment on Friday on the announcement.
Even a possible sale of the hotel is likely to create questions for Mr. Trump and his family, ethics lawyers said, as any buyer could pay perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars.
Lawyers involved in the emoluments suits said the cases would continue, even if the sale goes through, since foreign government officials are spending money at other Trump hotels and resorts.
“To people who think Donald Trump is frightened by the emoluments clause cases, they are reading way too much into this,” said Laurence H. Tribe, a Harvard Law School professor who has participated in one of the lawsuits and been a critic of Mr. Trump. “What this shows is that Donald Trump remains a master of distraction.”
Sharon LaFraniere and Ben Protess contributed reporting.
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