Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Penn., asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday whether he knew anything about his company renting out a block of rooms at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., spurring an exchange about the ethics of currying favor with the president by spending money at his businesses.
“Does Facebook do any business with Trump International Hotel here in Washington, D.C.?” Dean asked during the House Financial Services Committee hearing. Zuckerberg said he didn’t know.
“There have been public reports of enterprises and even governments doing business with Trump hotels to curry favor with the Donald Trump administration. Do you think you could get us the answer to whether or not you have been doing any business — Facebook, your company — has been doing any business with the hotel?” Dean asked.
“Congresswoman, I will look into it with my team,” Zuckerberg said.
“And you’ll be able to get us data and information?” Dean continued. Zuckerberg responded that his team would follow up with her office. Dean told The Intercept that she would follow up with written questions to Zuckerberg’s team.
“Is there any chance that Facebook actually books blocks of rooms at Trump International Hotel and does not use them?” Dean asked.
“I would be very surprised to hear if that were the case,” he said. Dean asked who at the company would be in charge of something of that nature. “I’m not sure what team would be in charge of a thing that I don’t think we are doing,” Zuckerberg said.
Asked on Thursday if she was satisfied with Zuckerberg’s response, Dean said, “He didn’t have a response. He didn’t know, was the answer. But I did appreciate that he said something along the lines of ‘I’ll get with my team.’”
Zuckerberg appeared before the committee to testify on his company’s proposed cryptocurrency, Libra, and a related project called Calibra, which would function as a digital wallet for the cryptocurrency. Members pressed the social network executive on issues from the platform’s failure to combat “fake news,” the outlets it uses as fact-checkers, and its inability to protect user data.
Dean, who also sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees impeachment, said her question to Zuckerberg was inspired in part by recent reporting on foreign countries spending money at Trump-owned businesses. “I asked it for some pretty transparent reasons. I’m concerned — I think anybody in oversight is concerned — about the practice of different enterprises and even foreign governments using the Trump hotel here in D.C. and elsewhere for the possibility of currying favor with this administration.” She added that she does “not have any specific evidence” about Facebook spending money at the Trump hotel.
The Financial Services Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Facebook also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Foreign governments and businesses have done business at Trump’s international properties, and Trump has been accused in a number of lawsuits of using the office of the presidency to advance his business interests. House investigators are looking into allegations that a trade association and a foreign government booked rooms at the Trump International Hotel and didn’t use them, Politico reported this month.
Dean asked Zuckerberg if he worried about enterprises and foreign governments currying favor with the administration by doing business at Trump properties. “I’ve seen the stories,” Zuckerberg said.
“Do you worry about that too?” Dean asked.
“I understand the concern. Yes.”
“Do you share the concern?”
“Congresswoman, yes. If someone is trying to inappropriately curry favor, that is — that’s bad.”
Do you have any information about Facebook’s lobbying practices? Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org or Signal us at 202-802-0482.