Trump’s Choice to Bring G7 to His Own Resort Would Be Illegal, if He Weren’t President thumbnail

Trump’s Choice to Bring G7 to His Own Resort Would Be Illegal, if He Weren’t President

ImageThe Trump National Doral resort in Doral, Fla.CreditCreditJoe Raedle/Getty ImagesWASHINGTON — The rules are clear for nearly everyone who works in the executive branch: Officials are prohibited from playing even a minor role in a decision that directly creates a financial benefit for the employee or the employee’s immediate family.But those rules do not apply to the president and vice president, the only executive branch officials who are exempt from a criminal statute and a separate ethics regulation that govern conflicts of interest.That exemption is the reason President Trump could legally play a role in the selection of the Trump National Doral resort near Miami as the site of next year’s summit meeting of the Group of 7. If anyone in the executive branch other than Mr. Trump or Vice President Mike Pence tried the same thing, they would likely have been blocked by government lawyers, faced an ethics investigation and perhaps become the subject of a criminal inquiry, federal ethics lawyers from both parties said Friday.Violating the law, which dates to 1962, is a felony punishable with a prison sentence of up to five years.”Suggesting that your own business be used for an expensive government event over which you have control would violate the prohibitions,” said Trevor Potter, a Republican and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission.Steven L. Schooner, who served as the administrator for procurement law in the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration, said Mr. Trump’s actions — if he were not exempt — would have “at least lead to a referral to the Justice Department.”Besides this conflict-of-interest law, picking the 643-room Doral resort near Miami for an event that will generate hotel room reservations and other related sales worth millions of dollars raises questions about whether other constraints might apply to the situation, the legal experts said. Those include federal competitive bidding requirements and provisions in the Constitution that ban even the president from taking certain kinds of payments from foreign governments and the federal government.It also highlights how Mr. Trump has often swept aside the ethical standard he set for himself as he was preparing to take office in early 2017.Nine days before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, one of his lawyers, Sheri A. Dillon, released a document detailing how Mr. Trump would avoid conflicts of interest after he was sworn in, even if he was not prohibited under law from taking actions that would benefit his family financially.“President-Elect Trump, as well as Don, Eric, and Alan are committed to ensuring that the activities of The Trump Organization are beyond reproach, and that the Organization avoids even the appearance of a conflict of interest, including through any advantage derived from the Office of the Presidency,” Ms. Dillon wrote in the six-page document, referring to Mr. Trump’s two oldest sons and Alan Garten, the chief legal officer at Trump Organization.But that same day, Mr. Trump made clear he was aware that he had a legal exemption that provided him considerable flexibility to decide for himself what would be permissible.“I have a no-conflict-of-interest provision as president,” Mr. Trump said. “It was many, many years old, this is for presidents. Because they don’t want presidents getting — I understand they don’t want presidents getting tangled up in minutia; they want a president to run the country. So I could actually run my business, I could actually run my business and run government at the same time.”Bobby R. Burchfield, a lawyer who serves as the ethics adviser to the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust — which technically owns the family hotels
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