In Kissing Up to Trump, Ukraine’s President Brought Up His Stay at a Trump Property

The overlooked comment shows how the line between Trump’s interests and the nation’s continues to blur.

The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP

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Donald Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine’s president to dig up dirt on Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden is justifiably dominating the headlines. But the bombshell memo of Trump’s call with Volodymyr Zelensky, released by the White House Wednesday morning, contained an overlooked comment by the Ukrainian leader that goes to the heart of how the line between the nation’s business and the president’s personal interests has increasingly blurred. 

During their 30-minute call on July 25, Zelensky, eager for US military aid to help his country fend off Russian aggression, slavishly kissed up to Trump, praising him for his campaign tactics and saying that “I had an opportunity to learn from you.” As the conversation wound down, Zelensky brought up Trump’s favorite subject—his properties.

“I would like to tell you that I also have quite a few Ukrainian friends that live in the United States. Actually, last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower,” Zelensky said, according to the non-verbatim memo of their call.

It’s not clear exactly which Trump property Zelensky was referring to—Trump Tower itself is located several blocks south of Central Park, but the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York City is directly on the park. In an Instagram post from March 2018, Zelensky can be seen jogging through Central Park with the Trump hotel in the background.

Zelensky, who is speaking Russian in the video, praises the city and says he’s eager to return home but doesn’t mention Trump. 

Trump’s properties are never far from his mind—he’s publicly named-dropped them more than 170 times since he became president and has visited Trump-branded properties at least 362 times. And he’s never been shy about trying to insert his properties into diplomatic situations. When Trump traveled to Ireland last year, he attempted to get the Irish prime minister to pose for photos with him at his resort in Doonbeg—the prime minister refused. Trump has also praised his properties at events with world leaders like Theresa May. At the most recent G7 conference in France, he promoted his own Florida resort as the best location for next year’s summit.

Trump’s Washington, DC, hotel has become a frequent destination for foreign diplomats seeking to curry favor with the White House—representatives of at least 28 countries have stayed at the hotel. Countries such as Saudi Arabia have spent lavishly at the property amid efforts to lobby the administration. 

Despite warnings of the conflicts of interest that could result if Trump didn’t divest himself from his business empire, Trump refused to give up any ownership of his properties. The predictable outcome is the appearance—if not the reality—that Trump is profiting from the presidency.

This is a developing story. Read our liveblog here.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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