Trump’s offer to host the next G7 summit is already an ethics nightmare
Following the fracas and infighting at the most recent G7 summit, President Donald Trump previewed an idea for how to make sure the next one is somehow even worse: hosting it at the Trump National Doral Miami — a Florida resort he owns (and profits from).
After claiming that he lost up to $5 billion by deciding to be president, Trump pitched the idea on the final day of this week’s summit in France, describing the Miami-based resort as a “great place” to host next year’s summit. “It’s got tremendous acreage, many hundreds of acres, so we can handle whatever happens,” Trump said. “It’s really — people are really liking it and plus it has buildings that have 50 to 70 units. And so each delegation can have its own building.”
Trump, sounding like a timeshare salesman, further pointed to the hotel’s location near Miami’s main airport. Nothing, Trump said, could compare. “It’s a great area,” he added. “We haven’t found anything that could even come close to competing it, really competing with it, especially when you look at the location being right next to the airport.”
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 26, 2019
Just one problem, though: If the 2020 G7 summit is hosted at Trump Doral, the president will directly make money from all the business ginned up by the summit. More than that, the president would gain financially from foreign dignitaries and their entourage. That could violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prevents the president from receiving any financial payment (or emolument) from foreign officials.
Trump has already been accused of not only profiting directly from his business while in office, but of allowing foreign governments to curry favor by spending tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, at hotels linked to Trump. For instance, foreign officials from Saudi Arabia to Nigeria can’t seem to resist staying at Trump’s D.C. hotel. NBC News in June found that representatives from more than 20 different countries had already spent money at Trump properties during his presidency.
And those are only the ones we know about. As ThinkProgress has reported, Trump-branded properties continue to make money from purchases made by anonymous shell companies — companies that could be secretly owned by anyone, foreign official or otherwise.
According to the Miami Herald, the Trump Doral property “has been among his most profitable assets. But it has been less of a money-maker since he became president: Trump reported that he made $76 million from the Doral resort and golf club in 2018, down from $116 million in 2016.”
A potential G7 summit, though, would be the highest-profile event yet hosted at a Trump-branded property during Trump’s presidency, as well as an unprecedented moment in American history.
“If he’s going to charge any money to any of those foreign governments for room, or for services, or for playing golf — for anything, he’s in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution,” said Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush. “No president has ever had a for-profit business, where he hosted events for foreign leaders.”
Other ethics experts echoed Painter’s assessment. “The idea that Trump Doral would even be a finalist so strongly suggests the possibility of corruption that the State Department’s inspector general should investigate the procurement process,” Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics, told the New York Times. “This may also implicate constitutional concerns if the government is going to be paying a company that Trump owns.”
It’s unclear what steps, if any, can be taken to prevent Trump from continuing to lobby to host the G7 summit at the location next year. However, according to Painter, there’s one clear way for Trump to avoid potentially violating the Emoluments Clause: offer everything at the summit for free.
“If he wants to do it for free, and comp everything, that’s not a violation [of the Emoluments Clause],” Painter said. “If he wants to comp it, that’s fine.”
Read more: thinkprogress.org