In September, Bill Snape and his family took the 90-minute drive from their home near Washington, D.C., to the grounds of Shenandoah National Park. It was a trip they had made many times before, but this time Snape was taking it to check out a rumor. He had heard that something unusual was on sale at Skyland Lodge, a hotel on the park’s premises.
At the gift shop of the lodge, Snape found what he was looking for: multiple cases of Trump wine, produced at the Trump family’s nearby winery.
“At first, it just annoyed me. And then I thought, what is the law?” he told me on Wednesday. Snape is a senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy organization.
Snape worries that the sale poses a major conflict of interest and may even violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause. “Emoluments means advantage. You cannot use your public office for your personal advantage,” he said.
The company behind Skyland Lodge has now confirmed that it sold Trump wine at Shenandoah National Park this year. This week, Snape and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to learn how Trump wine came to be sold at Shenandoah in the first place.
The sale gets at a wrinkle in how the federal parks system operates: While Trump wine was on sale at Shenandoah National Park, the National Park Service wasn’t actually the organization that was selling it. Delaware North, a company based in Buffalo, New York, operates the hotels and gift shops on the grounds of Shenandoah, including Skyland Lodge. It also manages attractions in Yosemite National Park and Grand Canyon National Park.
“At Shenandoah National Park we offer wines from several different Virginia vintners,” said Glen White, a spokesman for Delaware North.
Up until September, he continued, the company had been offering wines from Trump Winery, as well as Kluge Estate (the name of the vineyard before Trump bought it) “because they are locally produced.” (Snape said Trump wine was on sale until at least October.)
“This was only at Shenandoah, where it is a local product, and not at any other parks,” White said. “The National Park Service did not request or require us to carry it.”
Jeremy Barnum, a spokesman for the National Park Service, also told me that Delaware North had been selling Kluge Estate wine for years. He said the park service “does not specify what brands of these products should be sold” by concessioners like Delaware North.
Delaware North is one of more than 500 companies with a contract to sell goods or services within a national park. The National Park Service says that concessioners across the country employ more than 25,000 people, who are not federal employees, and generate more than $1 billion in receipts.
But the wine was definitely still on sale at Shenandoah at the time that Donald Trump promoted it during a presidential press conference. After his statement on the white-supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, Trump told reporters: “I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States—it’s in Charlottesville.”
The winery itself says this is not true: Donald Trump turned ownership of the property over to his son, Eric, in 2011. Town & Country magazine also disputes that Trump’s winery is one of the largest in the country.
Snape says that even if a concessioner sold the wine—and not the park service—it still doesn’t pass muster.
“It’s like a Rubik’s Cube, it looks bad from every angle,” he told me. “Why is the concessioner behaving that way—is the concessioner looking for special favors? And why is the park service allowing it to be sold?”
“Whatever you want to say about George Bush or Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton, we weren’t eating Jimmy Carter peanuts, or buying George Bush oil, or using Bill Clinton condoms,” he said. “Where is the line between the public duty and his personal profit seeking?”
Trump family investments and the National Park Service do not only overlap at Shenandoah National Park. The observation deck of Trump’s new hotel in Washington—the Trump International, on Pennsylvania Avenue, just a few blocks from the White House—is operated and overseen by park-service rangers.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.