Rule of Law

Trump Bid to Host Next G-7 Stirs New Cries of Profiteering

  • President proposes holding next year’s talks at Florida resort
  • Opponents claim Trump uses his businesses to enrich himself

President Donald Trump’s pitch to hold the next Group of Seven summit at his Miami golf resort risks deepening his exposure to claims he’s violating a constitutional prohibition against profiting from the presidency.

Yet most legal actions accusing him of serially violating the emoluments clause so far have been dismissed or haven’t advanced far enough to resolve underlying constitutional issues.

At the G-7 meeting that concluded Monday in Biarritz, France, Trump made an extended sales pitch for holding next year’s talks at his Doral property — touting its restaurants and conference rooms — and drawing new scrutiny over mixing potential private financial gain with his position as commander-in-chief.

“The idea of holding the G-7 at his resort is quite obviously a violation of the emoluments clause,” said Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe, a steadfast critic of Trump. Tribe has had a hand in three lawsuits aimed at holding the president to account for revenues received from foreign governments by his global business, the Trump Organization.

But Trump’s resort may be a legitimate option to host world leaders. The facility has previously been secured by the Secret Service and could accommodate delegations from seven nations.

Trump’s business has sought to counter criticism by donating profit from foreign leaders’ visits to the U.S. Treasury, which his critics say is an unenforceable commitment that doesn’t resolve the constitutional issue.

Even if the Trump Organization turns over profit from the G-7, Doral would benefit in other ways from hosting a summit of world leaders. On Monday, Trump used the occasion of an internationally televised news conference from France to tout Doral’s amenities. And next year, the resort would again get free publicity that could boost future profit.

Scouting Sites

Trump said while in France that he’s not trying to profit from hosting the G-7 and that members of the military and Secret Service concluded it’s the best location, after scouting facilities around the country. The Pentagon referred questions to the White House while the Secret Service said it doesn’t comment on its protective mission.

“I don’t want to make money,” Trump said. “I think it’s just a great place to be. I think having it in Miami is fantastic — really fantastic. Having it at that particular place because of the way it’s set, each country can have their own villa or their own bungalow.”

Trump also said the resort is close to the airport, has “magnificent buildings” with “magnificent views” and “incredible conference rooms, incredible restaurants. It’s like such a natural.”

Trump has been the subject of multiple legal complaints that he’s using the presidency to enrich himself. Disputed revenues have come from Trump-branded towers in New York, trademark protections granted by China, overseas and domestic golf resorts plus a luxury hotel just blocks from the White House.

The president placed his business holdings in a revocable trust that lets him continue to profit from his company’s activities. His sons Eric and Donald Jr. run the Trump Organization.

Constitutional Provision

The legal cases are grounded in a constitutional provision read to prohibit presidents from being enriched by other nations without congressional consent. But the lawsuits have struggled to gain traction in the U.S. legal system in part over the fundamental question of who has the right to complain.

Some lawyers argue Trump is on solid ground.

South Texas College of Law Professor Josh Blackman said the emoluments clauses doesn’t apply to the president — only to lower level appointees — and wouldn’t cover Trump’s private business transactions in any event.

Courts considering the issue haven’t reached conclusive findings on that point. A New York trial court judge threw out a suit filed by a government watchdog group and restaurateurs, concluding they’d not been harmed by the president’s alleged wrongdoing. That 2017 ruling is being appealed.

A Richmond, Virginia-based U.S. appeals court earlier this year reversed a Maryland judge’s decision to allow a lawsuit brought by the Democratic attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland to proceed, concluding they didn’t have legal standing.

However, a case brought by more than 200 congressional Democrats to force the president to come to them for permission to accept such benefits has survived trial court-level dismissal motions in Washington. The president’s lawyers want a U.S. appeals court to overturn the rulings.

Summit ‘Commercial’

Led by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, the lawmakers’ case is being fought by the Constitutional Accountability Center. On Monday, CAC President Elizabeth Wydra criticized Trump’s touting his Miami resort, where revenues declined nearly $116 million last year.

“By treating the G-7 summit like a commercial for his businesses, inviting foreign governments to line his pockets and hold their next meeting at his Doral, Florida, golf course next year, he mocks the Constitution he swore to uphold,” she said in a statement.

But Congress, not the courts, may have the most power to hold the president accountable through oversight hearings or impeachment. Lawmakers also could take up legislation clarifying what constitutes an emolument or adopt rules for disclosure.

“I would hope Congress might enact something so we don’t go through this again,” Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler said.

Tribe agreed with that last part. The strongest enforcement mechanism is impeachment, he said. “Impeachment is the principal hammer.”