(WASHINGTON) — The United States plans to host next year’s Group of Seven, or G-7, summit at the president’s Trump National Doral Miami resort, White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney announced Thursday.
The selection of a resort owned by the president’s own company is certain to draw criticism from Democrats in Congress who have criticized Trump’s mixing of personal and official business. In August, when reports first emerged that the Doral, Florida, club could host next year’s summit, and Trump voiced support for the idea, the House Judiciary Committee said it would investigate the proposal.
Mulvaney, who came to the White House briefing room to make the announcement, was asked repeatedly by reporters how the selection of Trump Doral for next year’s summit, which will take place June 10-12, was appropriate and how the president would not profit from the selection.
Mulvaney responded that Trump Doral would host the summit “at cost,” which, he said, meant it was millions of dollars cheaper – about half the cost – of another site that had been under consideration.
Democrats on Capitol Hill had previously filed a lawsuit against the president alleging his private businesses violate the Constitution’s emoulments clause, which prohibits US officials like the president from personally profiting from foreign governments. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Thursday that the decision to hold the G-7 summit at Trump’s Doral resort would now become part of that suit.
In August, when reports first emerged that the Doral, Florida club would host next year’s summit and Trump voiced support for the idea, the House Judiciary Committee said it would investigate the proposal.
The Democrat who heads the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, said in a statement, “The Administration’s announcement that President Trump’s Doral Miami resort will be the site of the next G7 summit is among the most brazen examples yet of the President’s corruption. He is exploiting his office and making official U.S. government decisions for his personal financial gain. The Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution exist to prevent exactly this kind of corruption.”
Asked about the marketing opportunity that hosting an international diplomatic summit would present, Mulvaney said Trump didn’t “need much help promoting his brand.”
“I would simply ask you all to consider the possibility that Donald Trump’s brand is probably strong enough as it is, and doesn’t need any more help on that,” Mulvaney said.
He later added that Trump was “not making any money off of this, just like he’s not making any money from working here. And if you think it’s going to help his brand, that’s great, but I would suggest that he probably doesn’t need much help promoting his brand.”
The president himself was the one who first suggested holding it there, Mulvaney said.
“We sat around one night, we were back in the dining room and — going over it with a couple of our advance team, we had the list (of potential sites),” Mulvaney said. “And he goes, what about Doral? And I was like, that’s not the craziest idea. It makes perfect sense.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment about who made the final decision.
Trump was already facing multiple lawsuits based on the foreign emoluments clause, and ethics groups said this latest move fit a pattern.
“President Trump’s behavior in office is a continuing affront to the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause,” the president of the ethics watchdog group Constitutional Accountability Center, Elizabeth Wydra, said in a statement. “By treating the G7 summit like a commercial for his businesses, inviting foreign governments to line his pockets and hold their next meeting at his Doral, FL golf course next year, he mocks the Constitution he swore to uphold.”
The nonpartisan watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) dismissed Mulvaney’s argument the summit would have no impact on Trump’s brand, saying Trump used the federal government “as a public relations and marketing subsidiary of the Trump Organization.”
A spokesperson for CREW told ABC News that its “legal team has been looking into possibilities” of bringing litigation against the president over his G-7 decision, saying the group was “gathering more information.”
When asked at the site of the most recent G-7 summit, in Biarritz, France, about where the next one in the U.S. might be held, Trump told reporters that holding the summit in Miami would be “really fantastic” and that his club would be ideal because it was near Miami’s international airport and because each country could have its own “bungalow.”
“With Doral, we have a series of magnificent buildings — we call them bungalows,” Trump said then. “They each hold from 50 to 70 very luxurious rooms with magnificent views. We have incredible conference rooms, incredible restaurants. It’s like — it’s like such a natural — we wouldn’t even have to do the work that they did here.”
Trump said he was “not at all” concerned about the ethical implications of using a diplomatic gathering to promote a club run by his own company. He said the U.S. Secret Service and the military were involved in the selection process, and that 12 sites had been under consideration.
G-7 summits are massive undertakings that attract hundreds of participants and thousands of law enforcement, support staff, journalists, and more – and sometimes thousands of protesters – and costs to the host country can amount to tens, or hundreds, of millions of dollars. Hosting the summit rotates among the group’s members, with the United States taking the helm next year.
As of Thursday, rooms at the Doral resort ranged from $337 to $637 per night for the days of the summit, according to the resort’s website.
The Miami area has been dealing with effects of climate change such as rising sea levels, but when asked by a reporter Thursday whether climate change would be on the agenda — particularly considering it would take place during a summer month — Mulvaney said it would not.
It would not be the first time the president has used a Trump property to host world leaders. China’s President Xi Jinping and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have both joined him at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, also in South Florida. Trump’s visits to that resort — which he frequents in the winters — have also come under scrutiny from Democrats on Capitol Hill.
There was an initial list of about a dozen sites, and advance staff visited just under 10, including sites in California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah, Mulvaney said. That list was further narrowed to four sites, including one in Hawaii, two in Utah, and Trump Doral, he said. “It’s almost like they built this facility to host this type of event,” Mulvaney said an advance staff team member told him.
“We use the same set of criteria that previous administrations have used,” he said. Asked if the White House would reveal the documentation of how the decision was reached, Mulvaney said “absolutely not” but did say relative cost numbers might be made available.
When Trump discussed Doral in August, focus turned to a previous case of bedbugs at the resort. The president at the time criticized Democrats for spreading what he called a “false and nasty rumor,” tweeting, “No bedbugs at Doral.”
But in fact, a possible bedbug infestation was the subject of a 2016 lawsuit, in which a New Jersey man who sued for $15,000 in damages alleging that he woke up covered in bites and sores after a night in one of the resort’s villas. In a court filing responding to the lawsuit, lawyers for the resort denied all of the allegations. The resort settled the suit out of court.
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