Donald Trump has just the place for the next G-7 Summit: His own golf resorthttps://indianexpress.com/article/world/donald-trump-has-just-the-place-for-the-next-g-7-summit-his-own-golf-resort-5940374/

Donald Trump has just the place for the next G-7 Summit: His own golf resort

Donald Trump said his property, a “great place,” was uniquely equipped to handle the G7 meeting in 2020.

Donald Trump has just the place for the next G-7 Summit: His own golf resort
President Donald Trump walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., April 7, 2017. (File/The New York Times: Doug Mills)

Written by Patricia Mazzei, Michael D. Shear and Eric Lipton

Presidents usually use international summits to advance their policy agenda on the world stage. But President Donald Trump turned a public appearance in southern France on Monday into what sounded like an infomercial for his sagging golf and resort business in southern Florida.

In suggesting that the next Group of 7 summit of world leaders should be at his own luxury golf resort in Doral, Florida, west of Miami, Trump put the most glaring spotlight to date on his willingness to flout the ethical boundaries that have historically constrained activities that mix for-profit business and the presidency.

And not just for any personal business: The Trump National Doral Miami Golf Club is the Trump family’s biggest moneymaking asset, which has shown signs of financial struggle since Trump began running for president in 2015.

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Trump said his property, a “great place,” was uniquely equipped to handle the G7 meeting in 2020.

“It’s got tremendous acreage, many hundreds of acres, so we can handle whatever happens,” Trump bragged in Biarritz, France. “People are really liking it and plus it has buildings that have 50 to 70 units. And so each delegation can have its own building.”

“We haven’t found anything that could even come close to competing with it,” he told reporters at the beginning of a bilateral meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

But David J. Sangree, a hotel consultant in Ohio, scoffed at the notion that the sprawling resort has some special qualities that distinguish it from many possible venues in the United States that could host a global summit.

“The Doral probably is a location that could hold it,” he said after examining a 37-page list of hotels in the United States that also hold a four-diamond rating from AAA. “But there are a hundred places that this type of event could be held in the United States.”

Also read | At G-7 Summit, Donald Trump embraces consensus over confrontation on China and Iran

Unlike more typical, secluded summit venues, the resort would be difficult to secure: Its entrance, lined by palm trees, lies near one of the busiest intersections in Doral. Last year, an armed man opened fire on police officers inside the hotel lobby. Trump has visited the property only once as president, for a Republican National Committee fundraiser in June.

The Secret Service informed the Doral Police Department two months ago that the resort was among a dozen potential venues for the summit, Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez said.

“It gives us great exposure, to have an event of this magnitude,” he said. “But logistically, it’s going to be a heck of a lift.”

The summer season, when the G7 summit usually takes place, is considered the less desirable time to visit South Florida because of the heat, humidity and possible hurricanes. Sheets of rain came down on the property Monday.

Once an out-of-the-way suburb of warehouses and strip malls, Doral is now an economic hub for Miami-Dade County, a city home to 62,000 people — 83% of them Hispanic — as well as corporate headquarters, news outlets and the U.S. Southern Command.

Critics argue that the summit, which attracts global attention and brings with it thousands of government officials and the international news media, would be an enormous windfall for Trump’s property, providing an immediate increase in revenue and raising its profile around the world.

The result, they say, would cross a line that previous presidents have avoided.

“Trump would basically be compelling foreign governments to spend money at his personal resort, while promoting the resort on the world stage,” said Deepak Gupta, an ethics lawyer with expertise in such cases.

“That’s inconsistent with both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution,” Gupta said. “Trump’s use of his official position for personal gain is so blatant and pervasive that I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it from a previous U.S. president.”

Trump has largely ignored such criticism since becoming president. As president-elect, he promised to step away from running his business but later put his children in charge of it. He pledged not to do any new deals but did not put the business into a blind trust.

The financial disclosure form that Trump is required to file with the government listed the Doral resort as the Trump Organization’s crown jewel, consistently bringing in annual revenue of more than $50 million. Trump does not have to disclose the profit or loss of his businesses.

More detailed documents paint a less rosy picture. The documents, as previously reported by The Washington Post in May, were submitted to Miami-Dade County as part of a challenge to reduce the property tax the golf club must pay. They show that the resort’s net operating income — what is left after costs are subtracted — has dropped nearly 69% in two years.

Net operating income was $13.8 million in 2015, $12.4 million in 2016 and $4.3 million in 2017, the year Trump was sworn in as president and the last year for which records are available.

The documents, public records that have been reviewed by The New York Times, also show that business was weaker across the board in 2017. Revenue from room rentals slipped roughly 9% year-over-year. Money the resort brought in from golf was down almost 8%, and revenue generated from its food and beverage operation was off 23%.

The drop-off in business has been apparent to longtime club members like Peter M. Brooke, a lawyer whose home borders one of the golf courses.

”I try to work out three times a week in the fitness center, and if there’s two or three members there, that’s a lot,” said Brooke, a 74-year-old Democrat who has been a member since 1992, long before Trump bought the resort. “Very often I’m the only person in the members’ changing room. Golf has also been very quiet. I’ve noticed far fewer conventions.”

The club has recently had disputes with some members who have been told they will have to wait many years, if not decades, to get refunds on golf club membership deposits, The Miami Herald reported this month. Five members have asked Brooke to find them a lawyer willing to sue the resort to get their deposits back, he said, though he intends to keep his membership.

The property has struggled since Trump bought it out of bankruptcy in 2012 for a reported $150 million. The resort lost $2.4 million in 2014. In 2016, shortly after $250 million in renovations were completed, the PGA Tour announced that while Trump was running for president it was moving the resort’s annual golf tournament — which had brought international attention to the site for more than five decades — to Mexico City.

The Trump Organization has disputed suggestions that the golf club has struggled, beyond acknowledging a local drop in demand after a Zika virus outbreak in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017.

“Doral is doing great and had its best year in 2018,” the Trump Organization said in a statement in May explaining the performance of its real estate holdings last year.

The resort has benefited, in at least some ways, from Trump’s time in office. Records show that the golf club has collected at least $1.4 million in payments from Republican political groups, making it the third-most frequent venue for political operatives. The two others are the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach and the Trump International Hotel in Washington, according to an analysis by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Since taking office, the president has repeatedly allowed the conduct of his official duties to be entangled with the facilities he owns. He hosted President Xi Jinping of China at Mar-a-Lago for a summit in 2017. He has made presidential stops to his golf club in Ireland. And he frequently conducts business or attends events at other locations he owns, including the Trump hotel in Washington and his club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Many past presidents have hosted world leaders at their private homes. But the difference is that none were for-profit businesses that generate revenue flowing directly to the benefit of the president and his family, said Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics.

Shaub and others said the use by Trump of his property for official business would violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits presidents from receiving gifts or payments, including receiving financial benefit, from foreign governments. Several state attorneys general, ethics groups and Democratic lawmakers have sued the president. Several of those suits have been dismissed by the courts.

But Trump’s use of his properties to date would pale in comparison to a huge gathering surrounding the annual G7 meeting, a possibility that The Post first reported in June.

“From day one, Trump has used our country to boost his name and his organization, instead of focusing on the real economic problems Americans are facing,” Terrie Rizzo, the chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, said in a statement.

In a later news conference Monday with President Emmanuel Macron of France, Trump defended his proposal and insisted that he would not profit from holding the summit at his resort.

“In my opinion, I’m not going to make any money — I don’t want to make money,” he said. “I think it’s just a great place to be.”

In Biarritz, Trump did not address possible ethical concerns about holding the summit at Doral. Instead, he touted the property’s proximity to Miami International Airport, about a 20-minute drive away.

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“You’ll only have a five-minute drive,” he told Merkel.