Sunday 22 September 2019

'People like my product, what can I tell you' - Trump denies he suggested Doonbeg hotel to Pence for US vice-president's visit to Ireland

  • Hotel was Trump's suggestion, Pence chief of staff says
  • Pence defends decision, points to family ties, logistics
  • Trump denies he was involved in the suggestion to stay at Doonbeg
Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Alexandra Alper

President Donald Trump has denied he was involved in the decision for US Vice-President Mike Pence to stay at his Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg, Co Clare.

Mr Pence drew fire from Democrats on Tuesday after he met with politicians in Dublin but stayed at the hotel owned by the US President almost 300 km away for both nights of his stay.

The hotel also hosted the Trump family during a brief trip to Ireland by the president in June.

Asked if Trump had suggested that Pence stay at the property, the vice president's chief of staff, Marc Short, told journalists, "I think that it was a suggestion."

Family history: US Vice President Mike Pence is greeted by his cousin Hugh McNally in Doonbeg village while meeting locals outside Morrisseys Restaurant. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Family history: US Vice President Mike Pence is greeted by his cousin Hugh McNally in Doonbeg village while meeting locals outside Morrisseys Restaurant. Photo: Steve Humphreys

"It's like when we went through the trip it's like, `Well, he's going to Doonbeg because that is where his family is from, it’s like `oh, you should stay at my place'," Short said. "It wasn’t like a `you must.' It wasn't like a `you have to.'"

Early on Wednesday, Pence's team put out another statement, saying "at no time did the President direct our office to stay at his Doonbeg resort and any reporting to the contrary is false." It also noted that the Pence family stayed at the property during a visit to Ireland in 2013, before Trump owned it.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Mr Trump later commented when asked by reporters at the White House; "I had no involvement, other than it's a great place."

"It wasn’t my idea for Mike to go there, Mike went there because his family is there.

Us Vice President Mike Pence arriving with his wife Karen and his Mother Nancy at Doonbeg Village to greet locals at Morrisseys Restaurant. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Us Vice President Mike Pence arriving with his wife Karen and his Mother Nancy at Doonbeg Village to greet locals at Morrisseys Restaurant. Photo: Steve Humphreys

"People like my product, what can I tell you. I can’t help it."

He denied that he suggested staying at his hotel adding: "We never spoke about it." 

California Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu accused Pence on Twitter of "funneling taxpayer money" to Trump by staying at the hotel. "You took an oath to the Constitution, not to @realDonaldTrump," Lieu said.

The Democratic National Committee also chimed in, saying on its DNC War Room Twitter feed that Pence's choice of hotel meant "your tax dollars: making the Trump family richer."

Warm welcome: US Vice President Mike Pence in Doonbeg with his wife Karen and his mother Nancy. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Warm welcome: US Vice President Mike Pence in Doonbeg with his wife Karen and his mother Nancy. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Pence defended the decision, pointing to family ties and saying the hotel stay was vetted in advance.

"I understand political attacks by Democrats, but if you have the chance to get to Doonbeg you'll find that it is a fairly small place," he told reporters.

Smile for the cameras: Mike Pence and his wife Karen meet Leo Varadkar and his partner Matt Barrett. Photo: REUTERS
Smile for the cameras: Mike Pence and his wife Karen meet Leo Varadkar and his partner Matt Barrett. Photo: REUTERS

The village has a population of just 200 people and would have had trouble accommodating the team if it hadn't been for the Trump hotel, Pence said.

Pence added that the state department approved the choice.

Family history: Mike Pence and his mother Nancy Pence-Fritsch are shown her father’s record in the Defence Forces during the Civil War. Photo: PA
Family history: Mike Pence and his mother Nancy Pence-Fritsch are shown her father’s record in the Defence Forces during the Civil War. Photo: PA

"I was pleased to have the opportunity to return to that family hometown and be able to stay there ... It was important to me, before our original trip plan, to at least spend one night in Doonbeg."

Pence's stay was paid for by U.S. taxpayers, Short said, but the vice president personally paid for his sister and mother who came with him. Pence's great-grandmother was from Doonbeg.

Trump has retained ownership of his hotels, golf courses and other businesses, but he gave control of the businesses to his sons shortly before he took office in January 2017.

Former government ethics officials and watchdog groups say Trump has failed to put safeguards in place to ensure that he does not directly profit from his actions as president.

Short said the original plan had been for Pence to hold meetings in Dublin and to head to Doonbeg afterwards. A last-minute schedule change meant Pence would need to visit Dublin after staying overnight in Ireland, and Trump's property had already been vetted.

In Dublin, Pence met with President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, where he urged Ireland and the European Union to negotiate "in good faith" with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and reach a Brexit deal that respects UK sovereignty.

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