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Trump Wine: Local Promotion Or Presidential Product Placement?

Nov 23, 2017
Originally published on November 27, 2017 8:39 pm

President Trump has never been shy about promoting his businesses.

Even at a press conference after the racially tinged violence in Charlottesville, Va., he paused for a product placement:

"Charlottesville is a great place that's been very badly hurt over the last couple of days. I own, I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It's in Charlottesville."

It's not one of the largest, although Trump's 2017 financial disclosure statement put its value between $11 million and $52 million. But its bottles were on the racks of a gift shop at Shenandoah National Park, about midway between Charlottesville and Washington, D.C.

Some visitors saw the wine there last summer. They told one of their colleagues at the Center for Biological Diversity in D.C. The colleague is Bill Snape, a lawyer at the center.

"They had been at Shenandoah National Park, and seen a lot of Trump wine," Snape told NPR. He drove down to see for himself, also to do some camping and birding.

"Y'know, I'm not going to drive out just to see Trump wine," he said.

The wine was indeed there, but he didn't buy any. Instead, he filed a Freedom Of Information Act request this week, seeking Interior Department records on wine sales at national parks.

This episode was first reported by E & E News, a news service that covers energy and environmental issues.

The National Park Service explained in a statement that, while it authorizes categories of products to sell, the contractors who run the gift shops get to choose the brands. Delaware North, the contractor at Shenandoah National Park, said Trump Wines was sold as a local brand before Delaware North dropped it in September.

Snape pointed out that Virginia has scores of other wineries that don't raise questions of influence.

"There are so many different wines you could pick from Virginia to sell at Shenandoah National Park," he said. "The fact that Trump wine is there raises a lot of questions."

The White House declined NPR's request for comment.

Former White House ethics counsel Richard Painter — now on the board of watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is involved in two corruption suits against Trump — said the gift shop contracts seem OK, but the larger context is troubling.

He said, "The Trump administration has sent the message that the promotion of the Trump brand name is critically important to the president."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When Donald Trump was running for president last year, he gave a primary night victory speech that's telling. He stood in front of a row of American flags and a display of Trump-branded products - Trump water, Trump wine and...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And we have Trump steaks. And by the way, if you want to take one, we'll charge you about - what? - 50 bucks a steak. No, I won't.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Since taking office, President Trump has continued to promote his businesses. So when Trump wine showed up for sale at a national park in Virginia, NPR's Peter Overby decided to take a closer look.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Trump wine popped into the news back in August. The president was talking about the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Charlottesville is a great place that's been very badly hurt over the last couple of days. I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It's in Charlottesville.

OVERBY: Some weeks earlier, Bill Snape heard from some co-workers that a national park not far from Charlottesville was selling Trump wine.

BILL SNAPE: They had been at Shenandoah National Park and seen a lot of Trump wine.

OVERBY: Specifically at a gift shop there. Snape is a lawyer in Washington with the Center for Biological Diversity. It works to protect endangered species. Shenandoah National Park is roughly midway between Charlottesville and Washington. Snape went camping there for the weekend.

SNAPE: Yeah, I'm not going to drive out just to see Trump wine.

OVERBY: And, yes, there was the wine in the shop. He didn't buy any, but he did file a Freedom of Information request this week for Interior Department records on wine sales at national parks. As he points out, that part of Virginia is loaded with vineyards.

SNAPE: There are so many different wines you could pick from Virginia to sell at Shenandoah National Park. The fact that Trump wine is there raises a lot of questions.

OVERBY: This episode was first reported by E & E News, which covers energy and environmental issues. The National Park Service said it authorizes categories of products to sell, but the company running the gift shop chooses the brands. At Shenandoah, that company is Delaware North. It said Trump wines was sold as a local brand, but they dropped it in September. The White House declined NPR's request for comment.

Richard Painter was White House ethics council for President George W. Bush. Now he's with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington - a group with two corruption lawsuits pending against Trump. Painter said a gift shop contract seems OK, but the bigger context is troubling.

RICHARD PAINTER: The Trump administration has sent the message that the promotion of the Trump brand name is critically important to the president.

OVERBY: And because the Park Service reports up to Trump appointees, messages from above can easily filter down. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNKY DL'S "WHERE I'M COMING FROM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.