Trump’s decision to retain ownership of his businesses during his presidency always made such brazen corruption a possibility. The consistent message (which the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky illustrated clearly) has been that those who wish to curry favor with Trump can bring business to his properties. That has led to conflicts of interest affecting almost every aspect of his presidential decision-making and to regular violations of the Constitution (my organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is involved in two lawsuits addressing these violations).
My organization has tracked more than 2,500 conflicts of interest involving Trump’s businesses and properties. Foreign leaders and embassies, administration officials, members of Congress and other officials have gone out of their way to patronize the president’s businesses. Vice President Pence went nearly $600,000 worth of limo rides out of his way to stay at Trump’s resort in Doonbeg during a recent trip to Ireland.
But awarding the G-7 summit to Trump’s Doral resort is a dramatic escalation of the unconstitutional behavior that has defined his presidency. It is not as if Trump’s previous efforts to profit from his office were subtle: Trump has hosted foreign leaders at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida. He has paid 387 visits to his properties — an average of more than one visit every three days of his presidency. What sets the G-7 decision apart is that this time, Trump played an active role in corrupting the process by which the federal government awards contracts — both in private and in public.
On Friday, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged that in discussions with the advance team, Trump brought up the idea of hosting the G-7 at Doral. When asked what role the president played in selecting the resort, Mulvaney said: “We sat around one night, we were back in the dining room, and going over it with a couple of our advance team. We had the list. And [President Trump] goes, ‘What about Doral?’ And it was like, ‘That’s not the craziest idea.’ ”
Trump had also publicly suggested that Doral was likely to host the event. During an August appearance in Biarritz, France, at the end of the last G-7 meeting, which doubled as an infomercial for the property, Trump described the resort and its features as “wonderful,” “magnificent,” “very luxurious,” “incredible,” “beautiful” and “brand new.” He noted that competing facilities may have been “good” but that some were too far from the airport and “some didn’t allow this, or they didn’t allow that.” Shortly after these remarks, the White House posted a video of Trump’s remarks on Twitter and suggested that Doral had already been selected.
So as procurement officials looked at where to host the meeting, Trump had already put extraordinary pressure on them to pick his business rather than one of the many other facilities at which the event could have been held. Past G-7 meetings have been held at Sea Island, Ga., and, most recently, at Camp David. Federal acquisition regulations require procurement officials to conduct their business “with integrity, fairness, and openness” and to give “the best value product or service to the customer, while maintaining the public’s trust and fulfilling public policy objectives.”
Trump’s actions thus undermine the credibility of the federal procurement system: The Trump administration has awarded a costly and highly sensitive contract to a company owned by the president, based at least in part on the president’s public and private suggestions. You do not need to be an ethics lawyer to understand how awarding a massive federal contract to the president’s business damages public trust in the government.
Indeed, were he any other employee of the federal government, Trump would be facing the possibility of criminal indictment and up to five years in prison for violating federal conflicts of interest laws. That law doesn’t apply to the president. But that’s not because corruption was supposed to be a perk of his high office. The exception was based on the assumption that presidents would go out of their way to avoid conflicts of interest and set an example of ethical conduct for all executive branch employees to follow. It was assumed that the president, of all people, would understand the axiom that undergirds all government service: that public service is a public trust.
Trump has proved all of those assumptions wrong.
To be clear, by hosting the G-7 summit at his property, the president is not merely violating the spirit of our laws; he is violating the text of the Constitution’s basic anticorruption provisions — the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses. Those provisions prohibit the president from accepting profits, gains or advantages from foreign and domestic governments. Trump’s acceptance of this contract from the federal government and the likelihood that his business will accept business from foreign governments attending the conference represent the most obvious violation of these clauses to date, even accounting for the fact that he owns a profitable hotel blocks from the White House that is frequented by foreign government officials.
The party line — delivered with a remarkably straight face by Mulvaney — is that Trump will not actually “profit” from the G-7 conference because Trump National Doral will do the event at cost. The claim is demonstrably untrue. The mere fact that the U.S. government will hold an event attended by world leaders at Trump’s property is a massive advertisement for his business even if Doral spends every dollar it collects. There is also no way to verify the assertion: What constitutes “profit” at a hotel or resort is notoriously hard to determine. It will also likely be impossible to determine whether the event draws spending from third parties, such as journalists, who have no choice but to cover the event and spend days at the president’s property. The property could use the help — its profits have fallen by 69 percent since 2015, and a tax consultant Trump’s business hired said it was partly due to “negative connotation that is associated with the brand,” the brand being Trump.
The cynical, public announcement that the G-7 summit would take place at Trump’s business from the podium of the White House press room was just as offensive as any coverup would have been. It was an unmistakable statement to those who seek to hold the president accountable that there will be no end to Trump’s self-dealing as long as he is in office.
A single thread runs through Trump’s business corruption and his Ukraine activities: his abuse of the presidency for personal gain. So when Mulvaney declared Trump National Doral Miami “the best” location for hosting the G-7, the question we all faced, once again, was: Best for whom?