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The G-7 summit that just concluded was held in coastal France, but the U.S. will be hosting the next meeting -- and President Trump has suggested his Miami golf resort as a possible venue. The remark immediately drew questions and concerns from ethics experts about possible overlap between personal profit and politics. Lisa Desjardins reports and talks to The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold.
President Trump suggested this week that he is considering hosting next year's G7 meeting with world leaders at his Miami golf resort.
Lisa Desjardins has more on why those comments are raising some eyebrows.
It sounded a little like a sales pitch, but from a presidential podium.
The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold has been reporting on Mr. Trump's business interests since before the 2016 election, and joins us now.
Let's start, first of all, David, with what exactly the president told reporters about why he thinks his resort in Doral, Florida, is a good idea for the G7.
President Donald Trump:
We have many hundred of acres, so that, in terms of parking, in terms of all of the things that you need — the ballrooms are among the biggest in Florida, and the best. It's brand-new.
And they want — my people wanted it. From my standpoint, I'm not going to make any money. In my opinion, I'm not going to make any money. I don't want to make money. I don't care about making money.
Now, President Trump is unique in many ways.
One of them, he is the only president we have ever had that owns resorts around the country. My question to you, David, what issues would this raise, the idea of a G7 resort the president owns?
Well, you could sort of put them into categories.
The one would be — the first would be the ethical concerns. The Constitution prohibits presidents from taking emoluments or payments from foreign governments. This would be Trump on a massive scale compelling foreign governments to pay money to him.
The foreign leaders who come to these G7 summits are accompanied by dozens and dozens of people. They all pay for their hotel rooms. The revenue would go to him. So that's on the first scale. This is the use of president — presidential power to basically create revenue for the president himself.
The other set of concerns is logistical. Most G7 summits, they're so heavily secured, they're held on islands or in sort of small resort towns that you can wall off.
Doral, you can't do that. It's among a bunch of industrial parks on the western side of Miami. So there's a logistical question of trying to secure something that is so sort of big and sprawling and integrated into a big city.
Let's revisit the Emoluments Clause for a minute to remind people. This is what it says in the U.S. Constitution.
It reads; "No person holding any office of profit" — generally thought to meet an executive of the U.S. government — "shall, without the consent of Congress, accept any present emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any foreign state."
This is one of two emoluments clauses, but this is the one that's relevant here.
Do we know if it is illegal for foreign governments to conduct business with operations the president owns? Where is the fight over this in court right now?
You're right that we don't know for sure.
This is such a dusty and sort of untouched area of federal law. No president had ever gotten close to sort of stepping over the line here before Trump, who just jumped over the line.
And so the federal courts have been trying to catch up and figure out, what did this — what did the founding fathers mean? What does an emolument mean? Is this illegal?
So three lawsuits were fired — were filed accusing Trump of violating the Emoluments Clause. Two have now been dismissed, on the grounds that the people who brought them didn't have the standing to sue Trump in the first place.
The one remaining one was filed by a bunch of congressional Democrats. That is still going, but it's on hold now while Trump appeals it to a higher court to try to dismiss it.
So that basic question, does an emolument in the Constitution, does that mean just a plain old bribe of money given to Trump for him doing something, doing a favor? Or could it mean a payment for a ballroom or hotel room, where the foreign government pays Trump, but gets something in return?
The courts haven't ruled on that yet.
I want to also ask you about Trump's business in general. He said he doesn't care about money. Do we know if his businesses have lost money since he's been president, and by about how much?
We don't know the big picture.
So the Trump Org has hundreds of hundreds of individual companies. And in some cases, we know those individual companies are doing poorly. Doral, that golf course in Florida, is a prime example. It's had a real rough run since Trump got into politics. Profitability has dropped 70 percent.
But as far as the whole picture, are they making money or losing money overall, they have never said, and I don't know.
So let's talk a little bit more specifically about the Doral resort. It is a sprawling resort, four golf courses, some 700 rooms. Certainly, logistically, it could provide the space for those world leaders.
And looking at this question another way, could there not be an advantage for a president to be able to host world leaders on his own turf? Why shouldn't he be able to do that?
Well, there — I have just talked to people today who have sort of specialized in putting on summits, people that organized summits for the U.S. in the past.
And they said there actually are some advantages to Doral, one of them being that it's sort of divided up into eight or 10 villas, sort of wings of hotel rooms. And you could use those to house the individual countries, so their security staffs wouldn't run into one another.
You're right that it's self-contained. Once you got all the dignitaries on the property, you could probably keep them there and not have to motorcade them around.
There are some disadvantages, though. It's very close to the Miami Airport, which might put some restrictions on flights. And, as I said, it's not an island. It's surrounded by all these neighborhoods where somebody could pull up and launch an attack, somebody could launch a drone or a mortar.
So if you want to secure that whole area for, let's remember, seven and maybe more of the most powerful people in the world, you have to watch that outside area. And it's going to be a lot harder at Doral than it would be at some other place.
Briefly, David, you have a new story today that touches on all this.
Attorney General Barr apparently has put in a reservation for a $30,000 party that he's going to pay for himself at Trump's hotel here in Washington in December.
Can you talk about that? And why does that raise concerns?
Well, you're right.
We got some leaked documents from the Trump Hotel that show William Barr, the new attorney general, has reserved the presidential ballroom at the Trump Hotel in December and is going to pay at least $30,000 for this 200-person, he calls it a family holiday party.
That's not illegal, as far as I know. But this is a question of the president — we have talked a lot about how the president has combined the personal and the political, the presidency and his business.
And this is a case where someone that he's rewarded in an official capacity as president, Barr — he's elevated him to this high office — is now giving Trump personal rewards. So, Trump is reaping some personal benefit from this guy that he just appointed.
Barr says he didn't do it to curry favor, that he tried to get a room at the Marriott first. But the result is somebody that Trump used U.S. power to help is now using his money to help Trump.
All right, David Fahrenthold, thank you so much for joining us.
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