As his impeachment trial continues in the U.S. Senate, the president on Thursday unwittingly reminded the nation of the easy corruption that enshrouds his administration by flying south to address the Republican National Committee winter meeting at the Trump National Doral Miami.
Yes, that’s the president’s golf resort, which means the Republican National Committee is once again enriching him by choosing to hold events drawing hundreds of paying customers to Trump’s for-profit business empire (which reportedly hiked its room rates for the occasion). And yes, that’s the same resort the president proposed for hosting the international Group of 7 summit in June before blowback — including, at long last, from some congressional Republicans — convinced him that such a move would be a corruption too far.
Lord knows how much cash has flowed through Trump Organization properties since Trump entered the 2016 presidential race, but the steady pace and persistent disregard for conflicts of interest seem to have numbed the nation to the president’s blatant use of his office to promote and patronize his private businesses.
Here are just a few examples. Last year, a five-member Air National Guard crew on a routine trip between the U.S. and Kuwait made an overnight refueling and rest stop not at an American military base but at a site they’d never been to before, Prestwick Airport near Glasgow — and spent the night at Trump’s struggling Turnberry resort. Also last year, Vice President Mike Pence and his entourage stayed at another Trump property, in Ireland, apparently at Trump’s suggestion, far from the events Pence was participating in. That decision cost taxpayers almost $600,000 for long-distance limousine service, even though there were better options closer in. Trump himself routinely golfs at his own resorts (invaluable free marketing) and has hosted international meetings at his properties. There’s the Trump International just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, which is the destination for Republican Party officials, domestic lobbyists and foreign dignitaries, most of whom would probably not have chosen to patronize the hotel were it not for the name over the door.
Just this week, the District of Columbia attorney general sued Trump’s inaugural committee over “exorbitant and unlawful payments” the nonprofit committee made to rent event space at Trump International. The spending, which amounted to about $1 million, was “unreasonable and improperly served to enrich the Trump Entities and its owners,” the suit claims.
The lawsuit alleges that the unlawful overpayments were arranged among “Inaugural Committee Deputy Chairman Rick Gates, Trump International Hotel Management and members of the Trump family.” Gates, you’ll recall, was Paul Manafort’s business partner who received a 45-day jail sentence on corruption charges after testifying against Manafort and Roger Stone, both Trump advisors who have been convicted on a range of charges. The committee and Trump International denied there was anything improper about the inaugural committee spending.
Trump has been able to merge his work as president and as a rainmaker for his own businesses primarily because no one has succeeded in stopping him. He faces at least two federal lawsuits accusing him of violating the Constitution’s ban on emoluments — payments to the president from entities other than the U.S. government. And some congressional Democrats have sought information about government funds spent at Trump properties. But so long as the president faces no consequences for his actions, the corruption seems likely to continue.
Trump’s self-dealing is of a piece with the behavior he’s been accused of in the impeachment inquiry. It’s all about using the power of the presidency for his personal benefit. In one case, he’s accused of misusing his office to help his reelection effort; in the other, it’s about using his office to line his pockets. Both reflect Trump’s narcissistic disregard for the law and his willingness to put his interests ahead of the nation’s.
Americans don’t send their elected representatives to Washington to market their own business enterprises, nor to wield their powers in their self-interest. We send them to serve the best interests of the nation. We should tolerate no less.