President Donald Trump’s suggestion that his Miami golf resort host next year’s Group of Seven summit became a reality Thursday, sparking an outcry from critics who called it the most blatant example yet of him using the power of his office to boost his business empire.
“There are folks who will never get over the fact that it’s a Trump property, but we’re still going to go there,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said in announcing Trump National Doral as host. “It’s not the only place. It’s the best place.”
Mulvaney said that the president will not profit from the summit because it will be booked “at cost” and that it stood out from a dozen sites considered because of its location and amenities. But it at least creates the appearance of a conflict of interest because, unlike foreign dignitaries who can choose to stay at the president’s Washington hotel and other properties, they have no choice but to spend money at his resort during the June 10-12 summit.
“He is doubling down on his corruption,” said ethics lawyer Kathleen Clark of Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. “He’s daring anyone to prevent him from further enriching himself from the presidency.”
The decision comes as several lawsuits accuse Trump of violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bans the president from receiving gifts or payments from foreign governments. It also comes as Trump has been repeatedly accusing Joe Biden’s family of profiting from public office because of Hunter Biden’s business activities in Ukraine when his father was vice president.
Mulvaney brushed off such concerns, as well as the idea that the summit at Trump’s Doral course would be nothing more than a massive promotion for his brand.
“Donald Trump’s brand is strong as it is,” Mulvaney said. “It’s the most recognized name in the English language.”
The chief of staff recounted that Trump himself raised the idea during a brainstorming session on possible sites, saying, “What about Doral?” Said Mulvaney, “That’s not the craziest idea I’ve ever heard.
Trump boasted at this year’s G-7 summit in France that Doral would be a “natural” choice, touting its sprawling acreage, proximity to the airport, three golf courses, “incredible” restaurants and separate buildings for every delegation.
Mulvaney said about a dozen potential sites were narrowed to a list of four finalists before Doral was selected as “far and away the best physical facility.” He added that holding the event at Doral would be dramatically cheaper — saving “millions” — and he promised to provide financial figures after the event to back that up.
Critics noted that the Doral resort, the biggest source of revenue among Trump’s 17 golf properties, appears to have been struggling since even before he became president.
Financial disclosure reports filed by the president show revenue is barely growing, up just $1 million last year, to $76 million. And the Trump Organization itself has admitted it was struggling, arguing in a tax appeal to local authorities last year that it is “seriously underperforming,” according to a Washington Post review of tax appeal documents.
The Doral, which Trump purchased out of bankruptcy in 2012 for a reported $150 million, also faces a heavy debt load. At the end of last year, Trump had two mortgages on the resort, one for more than $50 million and another for as much as $25 million.
“The president is now officially using the power of his office to help prop up his struggling golf business,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Trump “no longer sees fit even to pretend that he is constrained by the law or the Constitution,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a liberal-leaning consumer advocacy group.
The Trump Organization did not respond to questions about Doral’s finances. Instead, it issued a statement saying that it is “excited to have been asked to host” the summit and “honored by this recognition.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, among the Democrats in Congress who have sued the president over the emoluments issue, saw it as far more troubling.
“It’s so brazen and craven,” he said. “It’s virtually saying, ‘To heck with the rule of law.'”
Added U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York: “The emolument clauses of the Constitution exist to prevent exactly this kind of corruption.”