President Donald Trump has awarded the 2020 G-7 Summit of world leaders to his own private company, scheduling the summit for June at his Trump Doral golf resort outside Miami, the White House announced on Thursday.
That decision is without precedent in modern American history: The president used his public office to direct a massive contract to himself. The G-7 summit draws hundreds of diplomats, journalists and security personnel, as well as a worldwide spotlight.
The announcement to choose the president’s own club as the site of an international summit comes as Trump is in the midst of twin crises that are consuming his presidency – a hasty and confused American retreat in Syria, and a growing impeachment inquiry in Congress.
“Doral was far and away the best physical facility for this meeting,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said in announcing the decision. He said the administration examined 10 sites before choosing this one. Mulvaney quoted an anonymous site-selection official as saying, “It’s almost like they built this facility to host this type of event.”
The G-7 summit rotates among sites chosen by the seven member countries and the European Union. The last time it was held in the U.S., in 2012, President Barack Obama held it at the government-owned retreat at Camp David in Maryland. In 2004, President George W. Bush held it at the exclusive, isolated resort of Sea Island, Georgia.
This year, Trump had hinted repeatedly that he intended to award the event to himself. At the G-7 summit in August in Biarritz, France, Trump said his aides had examined other sites and told him that Doral is the best. The site is set among office parks, in an inland area near the Miami airport.
“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 then. “It’s not about me. It’s about getting the right location.” He particularly praised the club’s ample parking.
Doral is a major part of Trump’s portfolio: It provides more revenue to him than any other hotel or golf club, and he took out $125 million in loans to buy it.
But, in recent years, this keystone property has fallen into steep decline, with profits falling 69 percent in three years. An expert hired by the Trump Organization blamed the drop on Trump’s politicized brand.
Trump’s properties have hosted U.S. government officials before, and the company says it does not seek to make a profit off that business. But even so, Trump’s properties can be expensive: At his Mar-a-Lago Club, for instance, the government paid Trump’s company $546 per night for each staffer staying in the club’s guest rooms, and another $1,000 for a single night of drinking by White House aides at one of Mar-a-Lago’s bars.
In this case, Trump’s son Eric Trump – who helps run the Trump Organization while his father is president – recently said that, if Doral were the choice, Trump would not over-charge his own government.
“It actually would have saved the U.S. a tremendous amount of money in that they wouldn’t be paying for massive amounts of rooms with some hospitality company that’s going to milk the hell out of the U.S. government,” Eric Trump said at a forum put on by Yahoo! Finance last week.
For the Trump Organization, the event would still bring guests to fill unfilled rooms as well as a glut of global publicity.
Trump has visited his own properties more than 100 times as president, sometimes bringing along foreign leaders. Those visits have resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in revenue for his businesses, as the U.S. government – and other governments – pay for their personnel to accompany him.
But this is something on a different scale: Seven foreign leaders, plus hundreds of other foreign personnel, would be housed at Trump’s resort. The president is already facing lawsuits for allegedly violating the Constitution’s ban on receiving “emoluments” from foreign governments.
By doing this, he could be inviting a huge increase in the very line of business that these lawsuits are scrutinizing.
Trump bought the 57-year-old Doral golf resort in 2012, taking out $125 million in loans from Deutsche Bank to finance the purchase. He then poured money into renovating it, relying heavily on a crew of Hispanic stoneworkers that included some undocumented immigrants, according to members of the crew.
Since 2015, however, the 643-room club’s revenue and profits have both nosedived, according to figures that the Trump Organization provided to Miami-Dade County last year.
“They are severely underperforming” other resorts in the area, tax consultant Jessica Vachiratevanurak, who had been hired by Trump, told a county official last year in a bid to lower the property’s tax bill. Vachiratevanurak said the club’s net operating income – a key figure, representing the amount left over after expenses are paid – had fallen by 69 percent as of 2017.
The Trump Organization itself has disputed that. It says the real problems scaring visitors away are the Zika virus and hurricanes. Doral revenue rebounded slightly in 2018, according to Trump’s presidential financial disclosures, though it is unclear whether profits went up or down.
In recent years, Doral has turned to Trump’s political allies to replace some of its lost revenue: Last weekend, for instance, it hosted a pro-Trump group called “American Priority.” A violent video shown at the event depicted Trump shooting, stabbing and beheading members of the media and some Democratic opponents, according to The New York Times.
The selection of Doral as the site of the G-7 seems to signal the collapse of promises made by Donald and Eric Trump at the start of the Trump presidency, when they pledged to create separation between Trump’s private business and his new public office.
“There are lines that we would never cross, and that’s mixing business with anything government,” Eric Trump said in 2017.