Trump Plan To Host G7 At Own Property Raises ‘Monumental’ Emoluments Issues

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump drives himself around the golf course to watch the final round of the Cadillac Championship golf tournament, Sunday, March 6, 2016, in Doral, Fla. (AP Photo/Luis Alvarez)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump drives himself around the golf course to watch the final round of the Cadillac Championship golf tournament, Sunday, March 6, 2016, in Doral, Fla. (AP Photo/Luis Alvarez)
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August 26, 2019 4:17 pm
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The military and Secret Service are already scouting it out. 

It’s Trump Doral, the President’s Florida golf course and resort, and from President Trump’s public comments today, it will host next year’s G7 Summit. 

But President Trump hosting the G7 at one of his highest-grossing properties raises a host of issues that range from the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause – which prohibits the president from receiving things of value from foreign governments – to potential procurement regulations to a basic sense of propriety in government, attorneys and government ethics experts told TPM.

Whether or not it violates a specific law or diagnosis of law, it’s completely unethical for the president to use the G7 to profit his hotels and himself,” Larry Noble, a former FEC general counsel, told TPM. “The idea of leveraging your office to make money goes against the very concept of public service,” he said, adding that such acts are “normally a criminal violation.” 

Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who focuses on government ethics, told TPM that there are two separate issues in play with the Doral G7: Trump “using the government’s power to line his pockets” by holding the summit at one of his properties, and a separate question around whether the foreign money that would flow to him would qualify as a foreign emolument. 

Legal experts described the potential event – to be held at one of President Trump’s highest grossing properties – as a “monumental” emoluments issue, and one that is more acute than previous allegations in part because the President is using the influence of his office to stage an event from which he will profit. 

The president is essentially requiring [foreign officials] to enrich him through his Doral property,” Clark said. 

Trump has clung to his business empire after taking office, refusing to divest from a portfolio that includes hotels and real estate around the world. 

But it’s his Trump Doral property – which features four golf courses – that has brought in the biggest haul of cash, according to the President’s financial disclosures. And it’s there that he plans on hosting the G7 summit, saying that he had sent people to scout the location. 

“They went places all over the country, and they came back and said, ‘This is where we’d like to be,’ ” Trump told reporters at a press conference during the ongoing G7 summit in France. “It’s not about me. It’s about getting the right location.”

Trump’s hawking a G7 summit at his Doral resort comes one month after the same property made headlines for hosting a charity golf tournament with “Miami’s hottest strippers.” The event was cancelled amid an uproar.

Hosting a G7 event requires accommodations not just for individual leaders and their staffs, but also for security details, entourages, and non-governmental organizations that are invited to participate or observe. 

It’s not clear how much revenue would redound to Trump if the G7 ends up being held at his Doral resort. The cost of G7 summits appears to vary wildly. Last year’s G7 in Quebec sparked a controversy in Canada after it cost the Canadian government $600 million. France, by contrast, reportedly budgeted a more modest $40 million for this year’s summit. 

Noble, the former FEC general counsel, told TPM that the government would “presumably have to go through a procurement process to find a resort.”

“It may violate contracting laws, or any sense of propriety,” Noble said. “He basically used the announcement to tout the benefit of the resort.” 

In the past, the Trump Organization has said that it will donate any profits it makes from business it conducts with foreign governments back to the Treasury, though the way that the President’s business calculates that figure isn’t known. 

“You would have French and British and all kinds of other governmental expenses going to the Trump Doral property,” said Jed Shugerman, a professor at Fordham School of Law. “The only way to avoid it would be for the Trump Doral property to waive all expenses, and basically to host it for free.”

“I don’t know if that was on the table,” he added. 

Seth Tillman, a lecturer at Maynooth University in Ireland who has studied the issue, offered TPM an opposing view which aligned with that of Trump’s, arguing that the framers intended “emoluments” to be limited to “a benefit that extends to holding office” in a foreign state. 

“It could be a conniving attempt to extract an unfair benefit, akin to a bribe – and I don’t believe that’s what the foreign emoluments clause is about,” Tillman said. 

In his view, “the more general concern of self-dealing and bribery” is suited for the basis of an impeachment inquiry.

Three lawsuits have targeted Trump’s alleged receipt of emoluments through his businesses. Those have moved slowly through the courts, with one case brought by the D.C. and Maryland attorneys general thrown out last month on procedural grounds.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) is investigating Trump’s supposed receipt of foreign emoluments through his properties. Engel’s office did not immediately return a request for comment regarding whether his panel was examining the situation around Doral.

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