In October 2019, then-President Donald Trump faced the real possibility of Republicans voting to impeach him. In the middle of that fight, Trump announced publicly that he planned to host the next G-7 summit at his Miami golf resort, potentially enriching himself with foreign money.
The announcement infuriated some GOP lawmakers who were already on the fence on impeachment, leading to a tense confrontation at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, between moderate Republicans and Trump's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, according to excerpts from a new book on Trump shared exclusively with NBC News.
Trying to salvage his summit at Doral, Trump himself phoned the group at Camp David, and the moderates gave the president an earful as well.
The Camp David confrontation is yet another example of the challenging and complicated relationship between GOP lawmakers and Trump, who would be the favorite to become the Republican nominee if he runs again in 2024. The episode is captured in “Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress’s Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump,” a new book by Politico’s Rachael Bade and The Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian that examines why Congress twice failed to oust and bar Trump from office. It will be released Oct. 18.
That fall, Bade and Demirjian write, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and House GOP Whip Steve Scalise had desperately tried to hold the line and keep Republicans unified against Democrats' first impeachment probe into Trump.
The 45th president had warned Republican leaders he wanted zero defections, but he wasn’t making it easy on them.
Mulvaney was fresh off a disastrous news conference where he announced that the G-7 summit — a gathering of the world's largest developed economies — would be held at Trump’s Doral resort in Florida, shocking many Hill Republicans at the very moment they were trying to defend Trump from his Ukraine scandal and a looming impeachment inquiry.
On top of that, Mulvaney publicly conceded that Trump had, in fact, held up $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to pressure that country to launch an investigation into the Democrats and told reporters to “get over it” — before trying to walk back his remarks.
That weekend at Camp David, Bade and Demirjian write, moderate Republicans "charged the president’s chief of staff like a pack of wolves."
“Hell of a week. Can we try a little harder here? Like really, Mick?” Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., sneered at Mulvaney as she and other Republicans ripped Trump’s top aide while huddling around a crackling campfire.
“Your performance was kind of abysmal,” another lawmaker told their former House colleague. Hosting the G-7 at Doral was a “stupid idea,” a third chimed in.
“You need to make clear to the president that we can’t defend him on this,” Wagner told Mulvaney, according to the book. “This is an unacceptable, unforced error. We won’t defend it.”
The Doral announcement “was nothing short of pouring salt in the wound for centrists already squeamish about defending Trump on Ukraine,” the authors write. “The Constitution specifically states that presidents were barred from taking money from foreign governments — yet there was Trump, preparing to do exactly that with impunity. ...
“The backlash, Mulvaney realized, was going to jeopardize the tenuous GOP coalition that they needed to keep intact in order to defend Trump from the impeachment inquiry. He knew that if Trump kept acting out, some members would find it impossible to keep resisting the pressure to support at least the framework of an investigation.”
That fall, as cracks began to emerge in the House GOP conference on impeachment, McCarthy had been urging Trump to “woo” GOP lawmakers with a charm offensive. Mulvaney had suggested to his boss inviting a group of wavering Republicans to Camp David.
“Who would want to go there?” Trump replied, according to the book. But Mulvaney, who served six years in the House, understood how lawmakers reacted to presidential invitations, especially to the historic, rustic presidential mountain retreat that few had ever seen.
Wagner got an invite, as did Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.; Fred Upton, R-Mich.; and Peter King, R-N.Y. While the weekend got off to a rocky start, lawmakers began to relax: After dinner, Upton and his wife were in the basement bowling alley, others were playing billiards, and Wagner was at the gift shop spending thousands of dollars on “Camp David” T-shirts, golf balls, decanters, cuff links, baby bibs and other merchandise.
Her husband received an alert asking if their credit card had been stolen.
Later, the moderates regrouped to take a call from Trump about Doral, a call previously reported by the New York Times.
“Why don’t you think it’s a good idea?” the president asked, according to the book. “It’s a great venue! Everyone will love it!”
Herrera Beutler was shocked Trump was seeking their input. King, who knew Trump from New York, explained that hosting the summit at his resort looked self-serving, as if he stood to financially benefit. Don’t hand the Democrats ammunition, the lawmakers said, especially with impeachment votes around the corner. “We don’t want to have to defend you on this,” Wagner told him, suggesting that he host the G-7 at Camp David. “We’re already defending you on a lot of other stuff.”
That week, some of Trump's closest Hill allies — including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. — were also advising him to nix the Doral idea. Hunkered down at the White House, it took a while for Trump to come around to the idea: He had expected the attacks from Democrats but not the blowback from his own loyalists.
Later that night, according to “Unchecked,” Trump called the lawmakers at Camp David and told them he thought about what they had said and was reversing course. “All right. I’m going to tweet something like this out. How does this tweet sound?” Trump said.
In the end, not a single House Republican voted in favor of launching the first impeachment investigation into Trump or for the impeachment articles themselves — thanks to threats of retaliation by Trump and his charm offensive, like the Camp David retreat, as well as GOP frustration over being blocked by Democrats from seeing evidence.
“Trump’s reversal constituted one of the few times he recognized a limiting factor to his own power: the rest of the Republican party …” Bade and Demirjian write. “His accommodation of moderates’ demand made him look reasonable and accessible to his rank and file.
“He gave them a false sense of empowerment and fellowship that would make defending him — and turning a blind eye to the conduct that had been rankling them — more palatable.”