President Trump intends to host next year’s Group of 7 conference at his Doral International Resort in Miami in June, the White House said Thursday, leveraging his official powers to benefit his private business holdings in a manner unprecedented for an American president.
The move drew immediate conflict-of-interest questions and strong rebukes from a host of critics, a response that top White House officials said the president had expected and disregarded.
Trump first floated the idea of the Doral in August at the G-7 meeting in Biarritz, France, telling reporters that his property was far better than others his administration had considered, given its proximity to a major airport and the abundance of accommodations and meeting space on site.
Trump is already fighting three lawsuits accusing him of violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits U.S. officeholders from personally profiting from payments by foreign governments. He is also defending himself in an impeachment probe that questions whether he is abusing the power of his office for personal political gain.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning group involved in the emoluments lawsuits, said Trump was using the U.S. government as a marketing arm of the Trump Organization.
“This is unbelievable,” Bookbinder said. “Given the potential consequences the president is facing for abusing the presidency for his own gain, we would have thought he would steer clear of blatant corruption, at least temporarily. Instead, he has doubled down on it. The president is now officially using the power of his office to help prop up his struggling golf business. There appears to be no bottom to President Trump’s corruption.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a plaintiff in one of the emoluments suits, said a president personally profiting from such government business is what the founding fathers feared.
“Holding an international summit of world leaders at the president’s resort is not just a conflict of interest, it is unconstitutional,” he said. “The money made and the free promotion from this international event will line the president and his family’s wallets — and it won’t be pocket change.”
But White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters that the decision, which he acknowledged was Trump’s idea, would not represent a conflict.
“The president has pretty much made it clear that he doesn’t profit,” Mulvaney said. The resort would host the foreign delegations for the G-7 conference “at cost,” he said, adding that the Doral was “far and away the best physical facility for this meeting.”
The longtime presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., by contrast, is “miserable,” he said.
Mulvaney acknowledged criticism that even if the event itself did not generate a profit, it would be a major branding opportunity for Trump’s resorts but said that should not be considered a problem.
“Consider the possibility that Donald Trump’s brand is probably strong enough as it is,” Mulvaney said. “It’s the most recognized name in the English language.”
He said the public would “absolutely not” see any documents on how the decision was made because it involved confidential White House processes, and he glibly dismissed a question about whether the decision sent a message to the world about the White House’s regard for self-dealing.
“There will be folks that will never get over that it’s a Trump property. We get that,” Mulvaney said. “He’s not making any money off of this, just like he’s not making any money from working here.”
In fact, Trump’s presidency has had a mixed impact on his businesses. Some of his properties, most notably his hotel in Washington, have seen a big increase in business, much of it from customers with political interests, including foreign governments that may be seeking to curry favor with the White House. Other Trump properties have seen a sharp decline in business as groups have canceled events to avoid being affected by political controversies.
The Washington Post, citing company documents, reported in May that the Doral resort’s net operating income is down over the past two years. Critics say hosting the summit will bolster the property.
In the emoluments cases, which were brought by more than 200 Democratic lawmakers last year, plaintiffs have pointed particularly to the Washington hotel, where a number of heads of state and foreign delegations have stayed during official visits. They allege that the president is illegally benefiting financially from his position because so many foreign leaders are essentially putting money into his personal coffers.
None of the three emoluments suits have yet gone to trial. In one, a group of restaurants and other businesses in Washington, D.C., claim they’ve been injured by the Trump hotel’s ability to attract foreign business. A federal judge initially dismissed the case, but an appeals court ruled last month that the plaintiffs could go forward and seek records on Trump and his business dealings with foreign entities.
A second case, brought by the governments of Maryland and D.C., was dismissed by a different federal appeals court.
The third, brought by Democratic members of Congress, is also tied up in court. Ultimately, given the conflicting rulings by the two appeals courts, the issue could reach the Supreme Court, which has never ruled on what, precisely, the Constitution’s emoluments clause means and who can enforce it.
Thursday’s announcement about the G-7 comes at an especially tempestuous time for the president, who is facing a fast-moving House impeachment inquiry that could imperil his firewall of GOP support, and a bipartisan backlash over his withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria and the ensuing Turkish invasion that has led to heavy Kurdish casualties.