Politics

Trump Doral resort to host G-7 summit — sparking yet another ethics fight for the White House

Key Points
  • The 2020 G-7 summit of world leaders will take place at Trump National Doral Miami, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney announces.
  • Mulvaney fends off questions about whether hosting the summit of world leaders at the president's own property would violate ethics rules against self-dealing, saying Trump would not profit.
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President Trump won't profit from hosting G-7 at Doral, says White House's Mick Mulvaney

President Donald Trump will host the 2020 G-7 summit of world leaders at the Trump National Doral Miami, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney announced Thursday at a raucous briefing, fending off questions about presidential self-dealing.

"It was almost like they built this facility" to host the G-7, Mulvaney said at the White House briefing, echoing comments he said came from another official whom he did not name.

The Doral has seen its revenue plunge in the past several years as Trump has been in office. The Washington Post reported in May that from 2015 to 2017, revenue at Doral dropped 18%, from $92 million to $75 million, and that net operating income fell from $13.8 million to $4.3 million during the same time period.

Mulvaney insisted the president will not profit from the G-7 being held there, saying the resort will host the event "at cost" to the attendees.

Despite that explanation, the decision immediately inflamed critics of the president, who have cast the move as the pinnacle of government corruption in the Trump era.

Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics who is often critical of Trump, said in a Twitter poster that it was "the most overt corruption to date."

Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a good government group, called the move "unbelievable."

"Given the potential consequences the president is facing for abusing the presidency for his own gain, we would have thought he would steer clear of blatant corruption at least temporarily; instead he has doubled down on it. The president is now officially using the power of his office to help prop up his struggling golf business," Bookbinder said.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-New York, said the selection of the Doral is a potential violation of the Constitution's emoluments clauses, which bar a president from receiving gifts from foreign nations.

Nadler called the selection in a prepared statement "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," Nadler said. "The Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution exist to prevent exactly this kind of corruption. The Committee will continue investigating, litigating and legislating regarding these matters—including pressing for answers to our prior requests about the G7 selection process."

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Here's a break down of Trump's Doral Resort business

The announcement of the Doral's selection comes as the president faces down his own party over his move to pull troops from northern Syria and a spiraling impeachment probe led by congressional Democrats.

But Mulvaney, in delivering news that is likely to spark yet another congressional probe, was defiant. In response to a question about the event benefiting Trump's brand, Mulvaney shot back: "If you think it's going to help his brand, that's great, I would suggest that he probably doesn't need much help promoting his brand."

Mulvaney said that ten possible sites were considered and that Trump "doesn't profit from being here, he has no interest in profiting from being here."

While Doral was not the only option for the June summit, it was the best option, Mulvaney told reporters. He said the location will save the United States "millions" of dollars.

Mulvaney, who also serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget, declined to provide cost figures.

"Doral was by far and away, by far and away the best physical location," Mulvaney said.

A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization told CNBC, "We are excited to have been asked to host the 2020 G7 Summit at Trump National Doral. Trump Doral is a world-class facility, with an unrivaled hospitality team and we are honored by this recognition."

Mulvaney, who in recent weeks has come under scrutiny for his involvement in the Ukraine scandal being investigated by congressional Democrats, also responded to questions from reporters about whether hosting the event at Doral was the kind of abuse of power that Trump has tried to pin on former Vice President Joe Biden without evidence.

"There's no profit here, clearly there's profit with the Bidens," Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney was referring to Biden's son Hunter serving on the board of a Ukraine natural gas company for pay, while his father was vice president and afterward.

Joe Biden blasted the selection of the Doral on Twitter.

Hosting the G-7 at Doral has long been on the mind of the president, who has advocated that his property be used, including during this year's event.

"They love the location of the hotel, they also like the fact is it right next to the airport for convenience," Trump said during the 2019 summit, which was hosted in Biarritz, France.

Trump has also attended G-7 summits in Italy and Canada.

The G-7, or Group of Seven, is an informal intergovernmental organization of seven countries, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. It meets annually to discuss pressing global economic issues.

The presidency of the G-7 rotates. The United States takes the role in January.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, said, "Our Founding Fathers are rolling over in their graves. Holding an international summit of world leaders at the President's resort is not just a conflict of interest, it is unconstitutional."

"These world leaders and their staff won't be staying at Trump's resort for free. The money made and the free promotion from this international event will line the President and his family's wallets – and it won't be pocket change," Blumenthal said.

- Additional reporting by CNBC's Brian Schwartz