Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
President Donald Trump abruptly reversed course on Saturday and announced that the 2020 G7 summit would not be held at his Trump National resort in Doral, Florida, after all. The U-turn came after an onslaught of withering criticism – even from Trump stalwarts like Geraldo Rivera, who said the decision “flies in the face of the Constitution.”
Now before anyone applauds Trump’s reversal as a sign that he finally understands it’s wrong to profit from being in the White House, just take a look at the reasons he gave for changing the venue. It’s clear that the President wasn’t troubled in the least by the obvious conflict of interest. Instead, it seems he was simply tired of defending his choice. And by casting Democrats and the media as scapegoats, Trump managed to shrug it all off and shore up his base in the process.
Just look at Trump’s Twitter explanation. Did Trump say that he wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest? Of course not. Instead, Trump offered what was essentially a commercial for his golf resort, writing, “It is big, grand, on hundreds of acres, next to MIAMI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, has tremendous ballrooms & meeting rooms, and each delegation would have its own 50 to 70 unit building.”
Trump then defended his choice by going on to say he was willing to host the event at “NO PROFIT.” Of course, as the non-partisan Politifact.com noted, hosting the G7 summit, which attracts seven world leaders along with hundreds of diplomats, journalists, and security personnel, would benefit Trump in two ways. First, it would fill his hotel in June, which is off-season in Florida. Even if the rooms are provided “at cost,” spending from the guests at the resort would amount to a sizeable sum and reduce overhead costs. And second, it would provide an incalculable amount of free worldwide publicity for Trump’s golf resort.
On Twitter, Trump cited the “Crazed and Irrational Hostility” from the media and the Democrats – two of his favorite targets – for forcing him to consider other locations, such as the US government-owned Camp David, which is the very location President Obama held the G7 in 2012.
Speaking of Obama, imagine if he owned a chain of hotels and wanted to hold an official government event at his own property. Trump would be leading the charge in criticizing him and calling for impeachment.
But none of this is surprising considering how Trump has repeatedly raised red flags when it comes to possible conflicts of interest.
Even though Trump has placed his business holdings into a trust which is controlled by his family and a close associate, he remains the sole beneficiary, and still stands to benefit from gains his properties realize.
His son Eric Trump has said he updates his father on the financial matters of the Trump Organization, and it’s entirely likely that Trump is aware of the foreign officials and special interest groups who, among others, stay at his properties or host events there.
House investigators are looking into allegations that a trade association and a foreign government booked a large number of rooms at Trump’s properties and used only a fraction, according to Politico. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said, “Now we’re looking at near raw bribery. That was the risk from day one: foreign governments and others trying to seek favor because we know Trump pays attention to this. … It’s an obvious attempt to curry favor with him.”
Representatives of at least 22 foreign governments appear to have spent money at Trump Organization properties, according to an NBC analysis in June. Trump promised to donate any profits from foreign governments to the US Treasury, and the Trump Organization has donated $343,000 in 2017 and 2018, although it’s unclear whether that amounts to the total.
In March 2018, the American Petroleum Institute, the top oil-industry lobbying group, held a two-day board of directors meeting at Trump International Hotel in Washington, before executives headed to the White House to meet with Trump mid-conference, Politico reported.
Kuwait also moved its annual national day event from the Four Seasons to the Trump hotel in D.C. after Trump was elected. While the Kuwaiti ambassador denied that the event was moved to improve relations between the two nations, ethics expert Norm Eisen said it was a violation of our Constitution’s Emoluments clause, which prohibits Presidents from accepting gifts or benefits from a foreign government. The President’s adviser Kellyanne Conway attended the 2018 Kuwaiti festivities, which further suggested that money spent at the President’s properties could lead to access to US government officials, if not Trump himself.
And then there are the costs – which taxpayers are then saddled with – when Trump stays at his own properties (he has spent more than 300 days of his presidency visiting at least one of his properties, according to The New York Times). The Secret Service, for example, has reportedly allocated more than $95,000 to rent golf carts at Trump’s golf course between May and October this year for an estimated total of $500,000 on golf carts alone since Trump entered office.
One way to reduce the likelihood that Trump can personally profit from his office is if Congressional Republicans join Democrats in passing a bill that was introduced to block taxpayer’s funds from being spent at Trump properties. But given the cowardice Republicans have shown when it comes to standing up to Trump, it’s unlikely they will embrace that bill. The result may be that while Trump will no longer hold the G7 summit at his golf resort, there’s no end in sight for his use of the Oval Office to benefit himself.