Truth is again the victim. Last week, when President Trump suggested holding the G-7 international summit at his golf resort in Doral, Florida, you would have thought he had declared World War III. The assault was instantaneous, with Democratic House members claiming he was out for money, violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, and breaking all precedent. While the President has now pivoted to another venue, the truth is also a victim.
First, the President offered to host the international summit at cost or loss – obviously familiar with security, logistics, layout and hospitality offered by an objectively sound venue for an international summit. If willing to take loss or cost, one is hard-pressed to see how the idea generated money.
Second, if hosting the event at his own property was viewed as favoring his election campaign, one might note that the law allows candidates to use their own “personal funds” for campaign purposes, without limitation – although they must report the spending. Presumably, all costs would be public.
Third, with respect to emoluments, the intent of the Founders is clear – to prevent those in public office from materially profiting from service to nation, while in office. Trump had, as his Chief of Staff noted, ample resources before becoming president – and likely has taken a material loss by serving.
Moreover, klieg lights might fairly be turned on those who did not come to office rich, but oddly became multi-millionaires while public servants – such as former Senators Joseph Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Bernie Sanders, and countless members of Congress. The point is not overt corruption, but that these critics have apparently done more than well at the public troth.
On emoluments, note also that the clause would have twisted into a shape unrecognizable by our Founders to find the President’s offer of an at-cost summit to be an act of foreign influence. Specifically, the clause was aimed at preventing foreign grants of nobility or foreign gifts – thus, reducing the chances of foreign influence – and is plainly described in the Federalist Papers (see Number 22, by Alexander Hamilton).
Perhaps a more fitting and potentially rewarding question about emoluments might be whether a personal foreign gift to a sitting secretary of state’s “foundation” for millions of dollars, might be connected to the favorable treatment received by that contributing country on the part of that secretary of state? Or perhaps whether a vice president whose son was given contracts by China, or favorable treatment by Ukraine, was returning the favor in official ways?
In any event, the emoluments clause hardly seems to apply to a situation where an official takes a loss or entertains a foreign leader at cost. In fact, going back deep into the annuls of American presidential history, presidents have often entertained foreign leaders in their homes, from Thomas Jefferson’s hosting of Lafayette to Ronald Reagan hosting the Queen of England and Russian President Gorbachev at his California ranch. No issues raised.
Last, one has to observe that – yet again – this is one of those dust-bunny piles that has been gleefully fanned by presidential critics and mainstream media outlets into another hurricane of emotion, excuse for ranting and resentment, and in the end – a making of much from nothing.
The President has done the right thing, pivoted away from the clamoring cloud of critics, deciding to host the G-7 summit instead at Camp David or another – likely more costly and less convenient – venue. One might imagine that his decision would draw praise, or at least a settling of the dust-bunnies to the floor, but do not count on it.
In this climate, truth tends to come in second to searing soundbites and gratification of those determined to make everything a scandal. Make up your own mind, but to mine, this was a lot of not-much-there, just another example of Congress – which introduced two bills cutting funds for the G-7, under the clever acronym “THUG” – needing to be told to spin down and grow up. Perhaps that is what 2020 will be about.