Trump pushes for G-7 summit at his resort; critics pounce
MIAMI (AP) — President Donald Trump was in full sales mode Monday, doing everything but pass out brochures as he touted the features that would make the Doral golf resort the ideal place for the next G-7 Summit — close to the airport, plenty of hotel rooms, separate buildings for every delegation, even top facilities for the media.
There's just one detail he left out: He owns the place.
Government ethics watchdogs have long railed against the perils of Trump earning money off the presidency and hosting foreign leaders at his properties. They say Trump's proposal to bring world leaders to his Miami-area resort takes the conflict of interest to a whole new level because, unlike stays at his Washington, they would have no choice but to spend money at his property.
"It's ethics violation squared," said Kathleen Clark of Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.
Added Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, "This is him making it perfectly mandatory that they stay at his resort."
Trump's proposal at the current G-7 Summit in Biarritz, France, portrayed the Doral resort in the most glowing terms, even though he said later he was more interested in logistics for the meeting than making money.
"We have a series of magnificent buildings ... very luxurious rooms," Trump told reporters. "We have incredible conference rooms, incredible restaurants, it's like — it's like such a natural."
Trump's pitch comes as several lawsuits accusing the president of violating the U.S. Constitution's emoluments clause, which bans gifts from foreign governments, wind their way through the courts.
It also comes as Doral, by far the biggest revenue generator among the Trump Organization's 17 golf properties, appears to have taken a hit from Trump's move into politics.
The trouble began during soon after Trump announced he was running for the presidency in 2015 with a speech that called Mexican immigrants crossing the border illegally rapists and murders. Businesses started cutting ties to the president. The PGA and NASCAR moved events that used to be booked at Doral elsewhere.
Eric Trump, who is overseeing the business with his older brother, Don Jr., told The Associated Press last year that "the Doral is on fire." But a financial disclosure report filed with the federal government this year showed revenue at the club has barely been growing — up just $1 million to $76 million.
Trump's financial disclosure also shows he owes a lot of money to Deutsche Bank for the property, which helped him buy it in 2012. As of the end of last year, Trump had two mortgages on the resort, one for more than $50 million, the other for as much as $25 million.
A Trump Organization consultant told the Miami-Dade Value Adjustment Board last year that the property was "severely underperforming," according to The Washington Post. The local government cut the resort's assessed value for 2018 from $110.3 million to $105.6 million, according to county records.
Another sign of trouble is the long list of former Doral members who quit the club years ago but are still waiting for their initial deposits back. New members have to join first for old ones to get refunds, but that isn't happening, according to Doral member Peter Brooke. He says some former members have been waiting for 10 years or longer.
Brooke said a G-7 summit would bring in "considerable income" for the club, citing the need to accommodate Secret Service, guards and other staff that must accompany each foreign government delegation. "They would have to house all of them at the various lodges, not to mention food and more staff," he said.
In an effort to assuage critics, Trump agreed before he took office to donate profits from foreign government spending at its properties. But the company is private, so it's not certain the $340,000 donated so far is all of the profits, or even precisely how "profits" is defined.
The company has also said it doesn't actively seek foreign government business, and even tries to turn it away. Earlier this year, Eric Trump said the company goes "to great lengths" to discourage such spending.
It's not clear how hosting the G-7 would square with this policy. The Trump Organization did not respond to several requests for comment.
At Monday's news conference, Trump spoke as if the idea of making money off the summit never entered his mind. In fact, he said, other people were pushing Doral as a venue — not just him. He said the Secret Service and the military have been visiting various sites and appear to have formed a bit of consensus already.
"They went to places all over the country and they came back and they said, 'This is where we'd like to be,'" Trump said. "It's not about me. It's about getting the right location."
He then added: "I'm not going to make any money. I don't want to make money. I don't care about making money."