The oil industry’s top lobby group is holding a two-day board meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., before its executive committee goes to the White House to voice concerns about President Donald Trump’s proposed steel tariffs, sources familiar with the meetings told POLITICO.
The American Petroleum Institute’s annual board meeting that started Wednesday could involve up to 200 people representing various oil and gas companies — including the top executives of major oil companies — paying to stay at Trump’s hotel. It’s not known how much API is paying to the hotel, which is controlled by the Trump Organization, the family-owned business headed by the president’s son Donald Jr.
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“This kind of thing was a fear a lot of people had when the president did not divest from his business,” said Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for governance watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “What’s stopping the API from going to the president and saying, ‘Hey we just dropped a lot of money at your hotel. Just wanted you to know that before we started this meeting’?”
Government conflict-of-interest rules do not apply to the president, but Libowitz said patronizing his business could be viewed as a way to try to influence Trump.
The Trump hotel has also hosted several foreign officials, including the Kuwaiti Embassy’s National Day celebration and Bahrain’s National Day party, drawing criticisms that the business violates the Constitution’s foreign “Emoluments Clause,“ which prohibits officials from accepting gifts from foreign powers.
At the White House, the API executive committee is planning to air its concerns about Trump’s steel tariffs and his warnings that the U.S. could walk away from NAFTA negotiations. Trump’s 25 percent tariff on imported steel and criticisms of the current NAFTA agreement have frustrated the industry, which is heavily dependent on foreign metal and international trade.
“The two issue are tariffs and NAFTA,” said a source who requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to talk to the press.
A Trump Hotel receptionist confirmed the API was holding a two-day event there. An API spokesman confirmed a two-day board meeting was currently taking place but did not offer further details.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are scheduled to attend the board meeting at the Trump Hotel on Wednesday night, two sources told POLITICO. Press representatives for the Energy Department and Interior Department did not immediately respond to questions.
Perry tried to calm industry nerves about the tariff last week, saying at an energy conference in Houston that Trump might still be flexible on how high the import tax on steel would go or which countries it would apply to.
“I’m not sure that he has made up his mind with clarity with where he wants to go with this,” Perry told reporters at the time.
The White House meeting with API’s executive board Thursday, which will include outgoing API chief executive Jack Gerard, is tentatively scheduled to include Trump, the two sources said. It would also include Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, one of the sources added. Those two have been the president’s main proponents of protectionist trade policies.
The Commerce Department did not immediately respond to questions. A White House trade spokeswoman declined to confirm the meeting for Thursday.