Visitors to the Trump International Hotel in Washington were greeted with a provocative message Monday night: "Pay Trump bribes here."
Artist and filmmaker Robin Bell said he projected those words onto the hotel's facade from a van across the street, hoping to call attention to accusations that President Donald Trump is allowing foreign leaders to pay for access by staying at a Trump property just a few blocks from the White House.
"It's a pretty clear cut example of impropriety," Bell said in a phone interview. "This is not like politics as usual. The rules and the lines are being pushed so far and this seemed to be so clear to me."
Bell also projected the text of the emoluments clause, which prohibits US officials from accepting foreign gifts, onto the hotel's facade, alongside images of the Turkish and Russian flags.
The Trump Organization rents the space for the Trump International Hotel from the General Services Administration. Because the President oversees the GSA, Trump effectively became both landlord and tenant when he was sworn in.
The hotel has raised concerns for government ethics experts because guests, including foreign government officials, can try to ingratiate themselves with Trump and the US government by spending their money there.
In January, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government watchdog group, filed a lawsuit claiming Trump violates the clause because he is accepting payments from foreign governments through his business empire.
The other plaintiffs, including a Jill Phaneuf, a Washington-based events booker, joined the lawsuit saying Trump businesses have unfair advantage in the hospitality industry.
But the federal government ruled in March that the hotel is not violating its lease, despite a clause that says no government official can be a party to it. The GSA determined that the financial trusts and legal arrangements that Trump set up to manage his businesses have ensured that he will not get any money from the hotel while he is in office.
Referring to the hotel in a November interview with The New York Times, Trump said "the law is totally on my side, meaning, the President can't have a conflict of interest."
"I have have a no conflict situation because I'm President ... it's a nice thing to have," he repeated to reporters at a news conference in January.
Before Trump became President, he transferred control of his vast business holdings to his older sons and a Trump Organization executive.
— robin bell (@bellvisuals) May 16, 2017
This is the fifth time Bell has projected messages onto the Trump International Hotel, he said. Recently, he also drove his van to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to attend Trump's speech marking his 100th day in office, where Bell projected a "100 days of pollution" message onto a building's wall.
"Arts are what inform people. It's for discussion, where community comes together," Bell said. "One of the things that connects us is art."
Monday's display didn't last long because the hotel's staff is "pretty diligent about asking to take them down," Bell said, but that wouldn't stop him from doing it again.
"There will be a lot more projections to come," he said. "We're going to keep going."