BIARRITZ, France – President Donald Trump said Monday that he was likely to hold next year’s Group of Seven summit – the ultraexclusive annual gathering of world leaders – at his golf resort in Doral, Florida.
That decision would be an unprecedented use of American power to create private revenue for the American president. If Trump does choose Doral, he would be directing six world leaders, hundreds of hangers-on and massive amounts of money to a resort he owns personally – and which, according to his company’s representatives, has been “severely underperforming.”
Trump spoke from Biarritz, the French resort town that hosted this year’s G-7 meeting. It was typical of other recent summit sites: luxe but secluded, pretty enough for photo shoots, and sufficiently isolated to be sealed off for security. The past two meetings hosted by the United States have been held at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, and on a resort island in Georgia.
But Trump said his advisers have searched the nation and decided the most suitable spot for the 2020 summit is something different: a golf club set among drab office parks near the Miami airport.
It just happened to be his golf club, Trump said.
“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 praised the club’s ample parking – as if world leaders generally lost time at summits while circling the parking lot.
Many questions about the decision remain unanswered. For example, it was unclear late Monday whether Trump had formally chosen Doral. Trump said he had not. But after he spoke, the White House’s official Twitter account seemed to say he had – calling Doral “the location of the next [G-7] summit.”
Which was correct? White House representatives declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Miami-Dade County, where Doral is located, said the White House had not notified them of any decision.
Trump also said he did not believe he would make money off the event. “I don’t want to make money,” he said. “I don’t care about making money.”
But Trump did not describe how he would avoid it, and the Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment.
The Washington Post sent the White House questions about the logistics of the summit: Would the U.S. government pay to rent out Trump’s resort? Would foreign governments pay? The White House did not answer.
After Trump won the 2016 election, he promised, “I will be leaving my great business in total.” Although he says he passed day-to-day control to his sons Don Jr. and Eric, Trump maintains ownership of his businesses – and has visited them dozens of times as president. He has held summits with Chinese and Japanese leaders at his Mar-a-Lago club, and stopped at Trump resorts in Ireland and Scotland on trips abroad.
In all, these trips to Trump properties have brought his private businesses at least $1.6 million in revenue from federal officials and GOP campaigns who pay to go where Trump goes, according to a Washington Post analysis.
Still, a summit at Doral would be something unprecedented – both in the scale of the event and in the identity of the customers.
The Constitution prohibits presidents from taking “emoluments” from foreign governments. Democrats and watchdog groups have sued Trump three times, saying he is already violating that provision, by renting hotel rooms and ballrooms to foreign states. Trump argues that the provision was meant to ban outright bribes, not business transactions.
So far, Trump has prevailed. Two lawsuits have been thrown out, and another is on hold. But with a summit at Doral, he would be inviting that kind of payment on a broad scale. On Monday, the idea drew fresh condemnations.
“Trump is using the office to line his own pockets at the expense of the American people and our standing in the world,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in a statement. “Requiring our allies to spend money at the president’s hotel to attend the G-7 would be an insult to them and a violation of our Constitution’s emoluments clause.”
The Trump Organization says it donates the profits from its transactions with foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury, and that it has donated about $340,000 since 2017. But it has not said how much total revenue it has taken from foreign governments, or detailed how it calculated that “profit” figure.
The Doral decision also would reflect the effective end of a campaign by some White House staffers to persuade Trump not to use his own properties for official White House events. Some aides have been concerned that Trump would appear to be using the power of the presidency to direct taxpayer money into his own pockets, according to current and former White House officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
In this case, aides have pushed Trump to consider other sites for the 2020 summit that are more remote and easier to secure. He was not convinced, aides said.
In his news conference Monday, Trump touted his club. It was close to the airport, he said, and had ample land “in terms of parking.”
“It’s like, such a natural,” Trump said.
Trump also rejected suggestions that he was using the G-7 summit to make a profit, saying he has lost out on $3 billion to $5 billion as president, mostly by giving up new potential deals overseas.
The Post has not been able to verify that figure. The Trump Organization has not supplied any documentation showing its overall profits and losses, and Trump did not give details on Monday.
At Doral, however, it is true that Trump’s rise in politics has coincided with a drop in revenue and profit.
“They are severely underperforming” other resorts in the area, tax consultant Jessica Vachiratevanurak, who had been hired by Trump, told a Miami-Dade County official last year in a bid to lower the property’s tax bill. She presented figures showing that net operating income – a key figure, representing the amount left over after expenses are paid – had fallen by 69 percent.
The reason, Vachiratevanurak said, was Trump’s brand name, now closely identified with Trump’s aggressively partisan brand of politics. “There is some negative connotation that is associated with the brand,” she said.
The Trump Organization has disputed that, saying that the real problem is fear of the Zika virus and hurricanes. The club’s revenue rebounded slightly in 2018, according to Trump’s presidential financial disclosures.
The Doral club is a keystone of Trump’s business, supplying him with more revenue than any other hotel, and also carrying some of his biggest loans.
Trump purchased the 643-room Doral club in 2012, taking out $125 million in loans from Deutsche Bank. It was extensively renovated, in part by a crew of undocumented workers that Trump’s company shuttled from club to club, according to workers on the crew.
In 2016, Doral was sued by a former guest, Eric Linder, who said he had been bitten by bed bugs while staying in the luxe Jack Nicklaus Villa. Linder alleged that the villa had a “severe bed bug infestation.” The Trump Organization denied the allegation, without going into detail. It settled the case in 2017.
For any hotel company, the chance to host a G-7 summit can bring an influx of revenue and a huge boost in publicity. In 2018, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hosted the G-7 summit at the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu in the Charlevoix region of Quebec, the Canadian government bought out the entire hotel, according to an official with the local tourist authority. Other hotels were also packed.
“It’s been a good visibility for the region, for sure, to see the name Charlevoix everywhere,” the official said. “It’s been good for the tourism performance.”
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Fahrenthold reported from Washington. The Washington Post’s Josh Partlow, Anne Gearan, Alice Crites and Jonathan O’Connell contributed to this report.
Video: President Trump said Aug. 26 he would likely hold next year’s Group of Seven summit at his golf resort in Doral, Fla. He noted the location is in close proximity to the city’s international airport.(The Washington Post)