By Alexandra Alper
SHANNON, Ireland (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence drew fire from Democrats on Tuesday when he met with Irish leaders in the capital Dublin but stayed at a hotel owned by President Donald Trump almost 300 km (180 miles) away at his boss’s urging.
Pence held his meetings in Dublin on Ireland’s east coast on Tuesday after spending the night at the Trump International Golf Club in Doonbeg on the west coast and returning there afterward for a second night. 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.”
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
Dozens of locals, some waving American flags, greeted the vice president and his wife, sister and mother as they made their way through the one-street town after returning from Dublin.
“My great-grandmother lived in that house,” Pence told several people, pointing to a gray building across the street from Morrissey’s pub, owned by a distant cousin.
The Pences then ducked inside to dine at the pub, where a 22-year-old Mike Pence worked briefly in 1981, pouring Guinness for customers on his first trip to Ireland following the death of his Irish grandfather.
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.
Trump on Thursday canceled a visit to Poland https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-storm-dorian/hurricane-intensifies-tru… in order to monitor Hurricane Dorian, and sent Pence in his stead. He was later criticized for playing golf during that time.
In Dublin, Pence met with Irish President Michael D. Higgins and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, urging 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.
(Additional reporting by Conor Humphries in Dublin; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Andrew Cawthorne and Toby Chopra)