Should you stay at the Trump Hotel before meeting with the president or a federal official?

It’s tempting right? You could subtly mention how much you enjoyed the fluffy Trump-monogrammed pillows the night before as you make small talk before turning to your request that the president call off a regulator, or veto a bill, or make federal land accessible to your coal mining operation. Surely a stay at the Trump Hotel would be preferable to Washington’s other scandal-ridden hospitality institutions like the Mayflower or the Watergate?

But keep in mind the federal bribery statute, which while frequently enforced against politician-bribees, can also be enforced against businessman-bribers:


(1) directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official or person who has been selected to be a public official, or offers or promises any public official or any person who has been selected to be a public official to give anything of value to any other person or entity, with intent

(A) to influence any official act; …

shall be fined under this title or not more than three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value, whichever is greater, or imprisoned for not more than fifteen years.

18 U.SC. 201.

Yes, the president could be such public official, at least according to the Office of Legal Counsel. One can see an argument that the law should not apply to someone who pays market price even though Trump technically benefits every time a dollar is handed over to the hotel. But then again the market price of a Trump Hotel room may include the demand-driven value of the opportunity to influence a federal official.

Suppose the CEO of Toxic Substances Inc. plans to meet with the head of the EPA, and is told by an EPA official that he “should really stay at the Trump Hotel,” since that is convenient to the meeting place. The Supreme Court has recently held that “setting up a meeting” by itself does not constitute an “official act” under the statute. But here the official act in question would be whatever the CEO wants the EPA to do—say, water down a regulation—and the suggestion could easily be construed as a request for a bribe.

Advice to corporate lobbyists: there is nice Motel 8 in Arlington, Virginia.