We’re talking, of course, about Trump’s absolute, unfaltering devotion to using the powers of the presidency to serve his own financial self-interest.
With the G-7 winding down, Trump just disclosed that he’s seriously considering hosting next year’s G-7 gathering at his Doral resort in Florida. Trump extolled his resort for its location (right near the airport!), size (tremendous acreage!) and amenities (great conference rooms!).
Trump gave “a long commercial of sorts for the property,” notes The Post, adding that if he goes through with this plan, he “could personally profit from one of the world’s most prestigious gatherings of foreign leaders.”
“Trump appears to consistently use the presidency to advance his businesses -- both to publicize them and to directly bring in business — as often as he can,” Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told me. “This is entirely consistent with what he’s done in the past.”
But in multiple ways, this constitutes a serious exacerbation of Trump’s self-dealing and profiteering off the presidency. First, this is arguably a more active effort on his part to exploit the presidency to enhance his businesses than many previous such efforts.
As president, Trump has visited his resorts and properties scores of times, using the presidency to market and steer attention to them. Republican officials have staged events at them, fully cognizant that this means an appearance by Trump himself is more likely.
In this case, though, Trump will be leveraging the power of the U.S. presidency to draw multiple foreign leaders and their entourages — and the international attention that follows them — to one of his properties.
Thus, the resulting revenues and promotion will not be incidental effects of his decision to spend a weekend at a property or of his willingness to speak at GOP events held at them. Rather, they will be the deliberate result of a major proactive decision on his part shaping the U.S. government’s conducting of important diplomatic and international affairs.
“Of all the locations throughout the U.S. where he could hold a conference, there is no reason why this one had to be in the mix,” Bookbinder said. “Doral appears to be struggling. He seems to be looking for ways to use the presidency to help it.”
This raises obvious issues involving the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars officials from accepting gifts from foreign officials and states. The Trump Organization has said it donates profits from foreign governments to charity. But as Josh Dawsey and David Fahrenthold report, it has not explained how it calculates such profits.
It’s possible the Trump Organization could host the G-7 for free. But even in this scenario, Bookbinder said, Trump would be making decisions for his businesses — which he isn’t supposed to be doing, having supposedly turned over control to his sons to make his refusal to divest in his businesses appear kosher.
And regardless, the attention and marketing accompanying such an event would have great value. As Bookbinder noted, to “use the decision-making of the U.S. government” to create this situation benefiting his businesses in one way or another “really flies in the face of what the framers had in mind.”
Trump’s insidious corruption
Such a move would also intensify the corrosive effects of Trump’s corruption and self-dealing. Consider the example this sets.
“There are a lot of people in the government whose job is to decide on contracts and locations for government events,” Bookbinder told me. “One of the most basic rules of serving in the government is to avoid conflicts of interest.”
“If you’re somebody who makes those decisions, you wouldn’t dream of considering a business you have an interest in,” Bookbinder continued. “The idea that the president is ignoring principles that are basic to every contracting officer throughout the government is amazing.”
The contempt for basic anti-corruption and governing norms here runs even deeper than this. Since refusing to divest from his businesses, Trump has insisted that he’s not profiting off governing decisions. But this doesn’t address the basic problem here, which is that divestment is needed to remove any appearance of or incentive for such conflicts of interest.
Now Trump appears ready to make a major governing decision that will benefit his businesses — and is flaunting it. He’s unfurling a big middle finger in the face of the underlying reason we have the divestment norm in the first place — so we can be confident the president is making decisions in the public interest, not his own.
Congress must investigate
House Democrats should investigate what has gone into this evolving decision. This would help illuminate the degree to which other arms of government — which would presumably be involved in the deliberations — are facilitating Trump’s self-dealing.
“Congress should get to the bottom of what communications there were, who was involved in the decision-making, and what pressures were put on, either direct or implied,” Bookbinder told me. “Trump has enlisted people and agencies throughout the government to potentially become part of his business empire. Finding out who was involved here would shine more of a light on that.”
You’d think Trump voters would have an interest in this as well. After all, Trump personally enriching himself while hobnobbing with globalist elites isn’t exactly what those “forgotten men and women” stranded by those elites in the hollowed-out industrial heartland voted for, is it?