China spent over $5.5 million at Trump properties while he was in office, documents show

By Zachary Cohen and Kara Scannell | CNN

The Chinese government and its state-controlled entities spent over $5.5 million at properties owned by Donald Trump while he was in office, the largest total of payments made by any single foreign country known to date, according to financial documents cited in a report from House Democrats released Thursday.

Those payments collectively included millions of dollars from China’s Embassy in the United States, a state-owned Chinese bank accused by the US Justice Department of helping North Korea evade sanctions and a state-owned Chinese air transit company. Accounting records from Trump’s former accounting firm, Mazars USA, were obtained by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee.

China is one of 20 countries that made at least $7.8 million in total payments to Trump-owned businesses and properties during the former president’s stint in the White House, including his hotels in Washington DC, New York and Las Vegas, the report states.

The documents offer additional evidence of the rare practice of foreign governments spending money directly with businesses owned by a sitting president but are not a complete record of all foreign payments made to Trump’s businesses during his time in the White House.

At the time, Trump’s lawyer said the former president planned to donate foreign profits from his hotels to the US Treasury Department. However, the amount reportedly donated by the Trump Organization in 2017 and 2018 falls well short of estimated foreign payments that were made to its properties.

Trump refused to divest himself of corporate assets and properties prior to taking office, meaning he could still profit from his various businesses with little transparency.

Democrats say the additional accounting records raise new questions about possible efforts to influence Trump through his companies while he was in the White House.

As an example, committee Democrats point to the fact that Trump declined to impose sanctions on the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), a state-owned entity that leased property at Trump Tower in New York.

A Securities and Exchange Commission filing from 2012 shows that the Chinese bank’s base rent paid was $1.9 million and documents produced by Mazars confirm the bank stayed in Trump Tower through 2019 at least.

In 2016, the Justice Department accused the bank of conspiring with a North Korean bank to evade US sanctions.

But upon taking office, Trump did not sanction ICBC despite calls from Republican members of Congress to “apply maximum financial and diplomatic pressure” by “targeting more Chinese banks that do business with North Korea,” House Oversight Committee Democrats wrote in a report summarizing the contents of the Mazars USA records.

Asked about China’s payments to Trump-owned properties, Chinese Embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu told CNN, “China adheres to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs and does not comment on issues related to US domestic politics.”

“At the same time, I want to stress that the Chinese government always requires Chinese companies to operate overseas in accordance with local laws and regulations. China-US economic and trade cooperation is mutually beneficial. China opposes the US politicizing China-US economic and trade issues,” Pengyu added.

The Trump Organization says it donated over $450,000 in estimated profits from foreign government patronage to the US Treasury over the time of Trump’s term. The company also worked to track all foreign government business across its entire portfolio and did not make new business investments overseas while Trump was in office.

In a statement, Eric Trump said that the former president was tough on China regardless of any business interests.

“There is no President in United States history who was tougher on China than Donald Trump … a President who introduced billions and billions of dollars worth of tariffs on their goods and services,” Eric Trump said.

Democrats also argue that the Mazar documents show Trump repeatedly violated the US Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits a president from receiving an “emolument,” or profit, from any “King, Prince, or foreign State” unless Congress consents. Yet despite ethical concerns that have been raised about Trump’s lack of adherence to constitutional norms that were embraced by his predecessors, legislation to enforce the Emoluments Clause has gone nowhere in Congress.

The committee, which has investigated Trump’s businesses and his lease of the Old Post Office in Washington from the US government that housed his hotel, was provided the records following a years-long court battle that ended in a settlement in 2022.

Many of the documents in the subset released Thursday have not been previously made public.

“These countries spent – often lavishly – on apartments and hotel stays at Donald Trump’s properties – personally enriching President Trump while he made foreign policy decisions connected to their policy agendas with far-reaching ramifications for the United States,” Democrats wrote in their report.

Saudi Arabia, for example, spent roughly $600,000 at Trump-owned properties during his time in office and was making significant payments in May 2017 when it signed a massive arms deal with the Trump administration.

The Trump administration agreed to the controversial arms deal, worth over $100 billion, despite bipartisan concerns about civilian casualties resulting from Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen.

The report produced by House Democrats also highlighted comments made by Trump during a 2015 campaign rally regarding his view of Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia, I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million.” He continued, “Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much!” Trump said at the time.

Committee Democrats have previously released some of the accounting records, but those documents only accounted for a fraction of the foreign payments to Trump-owned businesses during the years he occupied the White House.

Foreign spending at Trump World Tower