Several items currently on sale at the official Trump Store online and, reportedly, at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, feature images of the White House, including two t-shirts, a mug, and a soap set.
Experts were quick to note the ethical dilemma of potentially using the presidency for monetary gain. Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, an independent agency watchdog, tweeted Thursday that the product line is part of the president’s ongoing “conflicting financial interest” in running the hotel.
Our corrupt President’s hotel, in which he retains a conflicting financial interest, is selling products with the image of the White House on it. I’d say he’s monetizing the presidency again, but it’s a continuous effort so “again” wouldn’t make sense. https://t.co/BgBfaQKNy2
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) March 21, 2019
It’s also not the first time the Trump Organization has found itself in conflict-of-interest territory. As Mother Jones‘ David Corn wrote in January, foreign governments and corporations have been putting money into Trump’s pocket via his hotel chain throughout his presidency. Last year, the organization removed golf tee markers decorated with the presidential seal. As ProPublica reported at the time, replicating the seal for non-government business is a possible criminal offense.
The hotel is also part of a lawsuit filed by Washington DC and the state of Maryland, which argues that Trump violated the Constitution’s emoluments clauses when he took office while retaining ownership in the hotel.
By Sunday, Trump Store online appeared to have taken down the images of the White House on its soap set, selling for $22. It’s unclear if the new Trump merchandise breaks any laws, but it is certainly unprecedented.
“Never did we see President Obama, or President Bush, or President Clinton, or the other President Bush, or Reagan, creating merchandise to benefit themselves personally that profits off his name and position as the president of the United States,” Jessica Tillipman, a government ethics expert at George Washington University Law School, told The Independent.
“One would hope just like prior administrations you would have a president in office who doesn’t want to give people the appearance he’s profiting off his position.”