In an angry Twitter thread late Saturday, President Donald Trump blamed the news media and Democrats for having to reverse his decision to award the G-7 conference to his own property, Trump National Doral Miami. In fact, he has no one to blame but himself.
Before he was sworn into office in 2017, Trump chose to break from decades of precedent and retain ownership of his businesses — ensuring that his presidency would be characterized by constant conflicts of interest and self-enrichment. That has come to pass in spades. My organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has tracked well over 2,000 conflicts of interest involving the president’s businesses, the presidency and those trying to influence him.
Trump Towers Istanbul a Syria factor?
These nonstop conflicts mean that, for virtually every decision the president makes, from foreign policy to tax policy to environmental regulations, we need to wonder whether the president is acting in the best interest of the American people or of his own bottom line. Could his recent decision to essentially allow Turkey to invade Syria and rout longtime U.S. allies have been influenced by the many visits that Turkish officials have made to Trump properties or the large Trump-branded complex in Istanbul? It’s outrageous that we even have to ask.
The president’s continued ownership of his businesses also means that he is regularly violating the Constitution’s emoluments clauses, which prohibit government officials from accepting profits, gains or advantages from foreign governments without congressional approval — and prohibit the president from accepting those kinds of benefits from the federal government or the states.
Public outrage about these conflicts and constitutional violations, long simmering, reached a boiling point last month amid revelations about Vice President Mike Pence’s stay at the president’s Doonbeg resort on the other side of Ireland, hours away from his meetings in Dublin (racking up nearly $600,000 in limo expenses alone); the military’s repeated stays at the president’s Scottish Turnberry resort; and Trump floating the possibility of holding the summit of the Group of Seven major industrial nations at his golf resort in Miami.
Just the possibility was met with condemnation from many quarters, as well as a legal complaint from us based on constitutional violations and abuse of the federal procurement process. Trump went ahead anyway, following his pattern of responding to criticism of abuses of power by doubling down more brazenly and more publicly.
Abuse of power too much to bear
Reaction was swift, not just from Democrats and the news media, as the president claimed, but from Republicans also. Retiring Republican Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida said it “would be better if he would not use his hotel for this kind of stuff.” There was plenty of Republican disapproval, both openly and behind the scenes, and relief when Trump reversed the decision.
Unmatched sleaze: Grifters, women, trampling Constitution and now G-7 at Doral
Perhaps it was the compounding scandals and violations of law and democratic principle that led to the harder than expected pushback. Trump already finds himself in an impeachment inquiry for abusing his office by pressuring the president of Ukraine to launch investigations that would be of personal political benefit to him.
In the same news conference at which he announced the G-7 coming to Doral, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted to a quid pro quo conditioning urgently needed military aid on Ukraine investigating the 2016 election. Maybe blatant abuse of the presidency to Trump's financial benefit by giving a huge contract to Doral, on top of Ukraine, was too much to bear. It certainly should have been.
No praise for backing off Doral
The president should not get any credit for backing down. The selection of his property for a key international conference was an intolerable abuse. Ethics watchdogs were hardly alone in making that clear before the decision was made. He made it anyway. Bowing to the reality that this abuse would not be tolerated is hardly praiseworthy. You don’t get credit for doing the right thing only after being shamed for doing the wrong thing.
Of course, one of the reasons why this abuse was so problematic is that, beyond whatever money the resort would make from the conference (promises that it would be done “at no profit” were never substantiated or believable), the conference presented an unmatched opportunity for free advertising and marketing. Doral’s profits have been in free-fall. This whole process has resulted in extended infomercials from Trump and Mulvaney about Doral, and nonstop media attention. The president has partially achieved his corrupt objective already, to help buoy his struggling golf business.
There is one positive to come out of this debacle. It shows that even with this president, intense outside pressure can work to curb the abuses. But more than 2,000 conflicts remain; there is much more work to be done.
Noah Bookbinder is the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Follow him on Twitter: @NoahBookbinder
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Doral G-7: Don't praise Trump for abiding by the Constitution one time