Yorbing Staff, Wednesday February 27, 2019
WNYC Studios, Trump Inc By Katherine Sullivan
This week, Trump, Inc. goes inside the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. Located in the Old Post Office, the hotel is at the center of three lawsuits alleging President Donald Trump is violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause barring the president from taking gifts from foreign governments.
We stayed the night.
Among the many prominent guests we saw: Nigerian presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar and his entourage. Nigeria’s elections were last weekend, and Abubakar was the main challenger to the incumbent president out of a crowded field of candidates. After a tightly contested race, he came in second.
Abubakar’s visit is surprising for several reasons. He had been reportedly barred from the U.S. for nearly 10 years for his alleged involvement in corruption while he was Nigeria’s vice president. Perhaps you remember the $90,000 in cash that was found in Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson’s freezer back in 2005? That was allegedly a bribe for Abubakar.
A 2010 Senate report on foreign corruption dedicated an entire chapter to Abubakar and his wife. The report detailed their efforts to transfer $40 million in “suspect funds” into the U.S. through offshore accounts while Abubakar served as vice president.
Abubakar has never been arrested or charged, either in the U.S. or Nigeria, and says he has never taken bribes. He has also called the reports of his immigration ban “misinformation.”
Last year, Abubakar hired a lobbyist, Scott Mason, who was a former Trump campaign adviser. Disclosures filed by Mason show he lobbied Congress, the State Department and the National Security Council on “visa issues.”
House of Representative lobbying disclosure for Scott Mason from Holland & Knight for Atiku Abubakar. (WNYC)
Mason and his lobbying firm did not respond to requests for comment.
Abubakar’s party also hired another firm close to Trump: Ballard Partners, run by Brian Ballard, former finance co-chairman for Trump’s campaign in Florida and a top Trump fundraiser. Years ago, he was Donald Trump’s lobbyist when he wanted to establish a casino in the Sunshine State. Now, he’s what Politico called “The Most Powerful Lobbyist in Trump’s Washington.” Filings by the firm say only that it was working on “advocacy services relative to US-Nigeria bilateral relations.”
James Rubin, a partner at the firm, said they were hired to work on “promoting free and fair elections” in Nigeria.
The visa status of individuals is confidential, but Reuters has reported that the U.S. government temporarily suspended Abubakar’s visa ban after a push by the lobbyists.
A spokesperson from the State Department declined to comment on Abubakar’s case. But the spokesperson said, “In cases where the secretary of state has credible information that officials of foreign governments have been involved in significant corruption … those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.”
Abubakar isn’t the only foreign political figure to patronize the Trump International Hotel in Washington since the 2016 election; there’s a long list of others. Dignitaries from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Malaysia and Azerbaijan have all lodged at the Old Post Office. And this past year, the Trump Organization reported an increase in foreign profits to their hotels.