White House

Trump developer made deal with China. A senator asked questions. He got no answers.

A flag flies in late 2016 on a green lined with villas at the Trump International Golf Club, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The 18-hole golf course in Dubai bearing Donald Trump’s name exemplifies the questions surrounding his international business interests.
A flag flies in late 2016 on a green lined with villas at the Trump International Golf Club, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The 18-hole golf course in Dubai bearing Donald Trump’s name exemplifies the questions surrounding his international business interests. AP

A developer of a Trump-branded golf resort in Dubai ignored a demand by a key member of Congress to explain how and why it awarded a contract to a company owned by the Chinese government.

Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Trump’s partner, DAMAC Properties, insisting on information after McClatchy reported it awarded a $19.6 million contract to China State Construction Engineering Corp. for road and infrastructure work as part of the residential piece of Trump World Golf Club Dubai project.

DAMAC had not responded to Menendez’s letter by Wednesday, the deadline he gave the company to answer to a series of questions about the Trump family business’ involvement in the selection of the Chinese company, according to the New Jersey senator’s office.

“While I expect DAMAC Properties to respond our inquiry, the fact remains that President Trump’s refusal to divest his business and investment assets has created a host of unprecedented conflicts around the world,” Menendez told McClatchy. “The Trump Organization may claim it has little ongoing role in these foreign deals, but the president continues to reap the financial profits and remains vulnerable to foreign governments trying to exploit those interests.”

Menendez pledged to continue scrutinizing deals that the Trump Organization has with foreign state-owned enterprises. But there isn’t much he can do, especially by himself. He could send another request to the developer or the Trump Organization. Both would be stronger if a Republican lawmaker joined him.

“We’re happy to have anybody join us, but what we really want is a response,” Menendez said.

Trump vowed that his family business would not engage in any transactions with foreign government entities while he serves as president after watchdog groups warned it could violate the Constitution. But the the contract is just the latest in a series of business transactions involving his company and the Chinese government.

CSCEC was awarded two previous contracts: a $32 million contract to build a six-lane road in early 2017 and a $163 million contract to construct one of the buildings in February. The development is expected to open later this year.

Even Republicans have criticized Trump for making a deal to help save Chinese-controlled ZTE, just as his company was conducting business with Chinese-owned firms. The president is also in the midst of negotiating a trade agreement with Beijing and working with China on persuading its neighbor, North Korea, to get rid of its nuclear weapons.

Read Next

Menendez’s letter asked for information about other companies that bid on the contract, whether the Trump Organization had any role in approving the contract and if the Trump Organization provided DAMAC with any guidance on the president’s pledge not to enter into new foreign deals.

“It is possible that foreign state-owned companies may be submitting below-market bids on contracts associated with Trump-branded developments to curry favor with the president,” Menendez wrote in his June 22 letter.

The Chinese company, known as CSCEC, is majority government-owned — according to Bloomberg and Moody’s, among others. It was listed as the 7th largest company in China and 37th worldwide with nearly $130 billion in revenues in 2014, according to Fortune’s Global 500 list.

The company, which has had a presence in the United States since the mid-1980s, was one of several accused by the World Bank of corruption for its role in the bidding process for a roads project in the Philippines and banned in 2009 from World Bank-financed contracts for several years.

A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, which is run by the president’s adult sons, previously said the company is not the owner or developer of Trump World Golf Club, Dubai but rather licenses its name and brand to DAMAC Properties and has entered into an agreement to manage the Dubai golf course. The spokeswoman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Chinese company was hired to work on the residential project, which is separate from the golf course, but marketing materials, including brochures, websites and news releases show them intricately tied together.

Trump ignored calls to fully separate from his business interests when he became president. Instead, he placed his holdings in a trust designed to hold assets for his “exclusive benefit,” which he can receive at any time. He retains the authority to revoke the trust.

Christine Condon in Washington contributed.

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01

From Mar-a-Lago, President Trump gave a statement about the developing relationship he has with Chinese President Xi Jinping after meeting with his Chinese counterparts. "I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away," said Tr