WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's suggestion on Monday that he is considering hosting the 2020 G-7 meeting at his Miami golf course reignited questions about whether he has personally profited from the presidency — and warnings from constitutional experts that such a move would violate the emoluments clauses of the Constitution.
Trump said that no official decision on the 2020 summit had been made yet — but extolled the virtues of holding the summit at the Trump National Doral Miami Golf Resort, a decision that would draw to his property thousands of foreign government officials from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom, among other invited countries, as well as the international press.
Constitutional scholars cried foul. “If the foreign governments pay to use the proprieties, then he is receiving emoluments from foreign governments and violating the United States Constitution,” Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and a former White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, said in a phone interview with NBC News.
Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School and a leading constitutional law scholar, agreed in a tweet on Monday, even suggesting it could be grounds for impeachment.
"Trump keeps proving that he is deliberately violating the Constitution’s main safeguard against financial corruption and compromise of presidential decisions by foreign power," Tribe said. "He’s making our case for us."
Deepak Gupta, a constitutional lawyer and a lead counsel in one of the lawsuits against Trump under the emoluments clauses, said that if foreign governments pay the Trump Organization to stay at the Doral, "that's a clear violation of the Constitution."
"To prevent corruption, the Constitution's Foreign Emoluments Clause prohibits the President from accepting payments from foreign governments," he said by email.
Gupta added that the issue was not just about foreign governments paying to stay at the Trump property, but also whether the U.S. government would have to pay Doral.
"If that were to occur, it would raise another constitutional problem — a violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause, which specifically prohibits the President from accepting payments from the federal government other than his official salary," he said.
At the tail end of his visit to this year's G-7 in France, Trump said that hosting the 2020 summit at the Doral would be a matter of convenience.
“It is, very importantly, only five minutes from the airport,” Trump told reporters on Monday, noting that his team looked at a dozen U.S. locations, but some were hours from an airport.
“With Doral, we have a series of magnificent buildings,” Trump continued, making the case for his property. “Each country can have their own villa or their own bungalow.”
Despite Trump's sales pitch, some critics quickly said the Doral might not be the best place to host the world's most powerful leaders: Florida authorities reported 524 health-code violations at the Doral from 2013 to 2018, including live cockroaches and other insects in the kitchen food prep area.
The U.S. last hosted the summit in 2012 at Camp David, when Barack Obama was president.
Hosting foreign leaders at vacation homes outside of Washington is nothing new for U.S. presidents.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously served hot dogs to the king and queen of England during a stay at his Hyde Park estate; President Ronald Reagan hosted U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at his California ranch; President George W. Bush invited Russia President Vladimir Putin, among others, to his Texas ranch.
The difference is that Trump’s properties, such as Mar-a-Lago and Doral, are commercial for-profit properties as opposed to a private home. When a foreign dignitary visits, they are ostensibly paying for their accommodations.
“Bush wasn’t charging anyone to go to his ranch,” said Painter, the former White House ethics lawyer in his administration. “If he is doing it for free," he said of Trump, "and hosting them for free, and he is not going to charge, then he is not running afoul of the emoluments clause.”
Trump did not give any indication that he would provide accommodations for free when pressed by reporters about whether he stood to personally profit if the 2020 summit were held at his property.
"From my standpoint, I'm not going to make any money," Trump said Monday. "I don't want to make money. I don't care about making money."
The U.S. government has consistently compensated Trump properties over the course of his presidency due to his decision to patronize his own hotels and resorts, including more than $200,000 by the Secret Service to his Washington hotel alone from 2016 to 2018.
But Gupta argued that even if Trump were offering accommodations for free, there would still be legal issues.
"Offering accommodations for free might be one way of avoiding the most obvious violations of the emoluments clause. But that hasn't generally been Trump's approach thus far," said Gupta. "There's also a separate problem that can't be avoided by allowing foreign dignitaries to stay for free: By using the G-7 summit to promote his failing private business on the world stage, Trump is using his official position for private personal gain. That's a violation of the most basic rules of government ethics."
Trump received criticism earlier in his term for hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to separate visits at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, essentially compelling the foreign governments to pay him to stay at his property. These visits were much smaller in scale than a G-7 summit would be.
The blowback to hosting the G-7 at Doral would most likely be intense, and some White House officials have reportedly warned Trump of such reaction.
“The foreign emoluments clause is not just a technical requirement," Barbara McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan, said in an email to NBC News. "The purpose for the rule is to shield government officials from foreign influence that could affect the performance of their duties.”
“Accepting gifts from foreign governments creates a clear conflict of interest for government office holders," she added. "One could even argue that such a flagrant violation of the president’s constitutional duty is grounds for impeachment."