The president of the United States should use the power of the office to serve the nation, never once taking the opportunity to enrich oneself.
Corruption and self-dealing were such grave threats to the nation that the Constitution’s framers put the prohibition on presidents accepting payments from domestic and foreign governments into its first two articles. President Donald Trump is Exhibit A of their wisdom.
Unfortunately, the Constitution made honoring those standards self-enforcing. Over the years, many ethics rules have been put in place by Congress and the executive branch to ensure there are no conflicts of interest. Trump, however, has obliterated all tradition and norms of the office, first refusing to divest himself from his company and its many hotels, golf courses and resorts after being elected in 2016. Now, he seems to be profiting from being president. Which leads to a troubling question: Are Trump and others making decisions based on what’s good for the nation, or what’s good for Trump?
With the president refusing to be held to any standards and refusing to make his transactions transparent, Congress must exercise its oversight role.
The most recent revelation involves U.S. military crews refueling planes with increasing frequency at a small commercial airport in Scotland 30 miles from the Trump Turnberry resort, and spending overnights there. But fuel is cheaper at U.S. bases and more than 20 hotels are at or near the airport. Turnberry increased its revenue by $3 million in 2018 after losing $4.5 million in 2017. And the military business helps the debt-ridden, money-losing airport, whose closure would be a blow to Turnberry.
But there’s much more.
- Between June 2015, when Trump announced his run, and 2018, at least $16 million was spent at Trump properties by his campaign and federal agencies like the Secret Service. His inauguration committee spent $1.5 million at Trump International Hotel in Washington.
- The government of Saudi Arabia spent nearly $200,000 at Trump’s Washington hotel in early 2017, one of many cases of foreign officials staying at the property.
- At Trump’s suggestion, Vice President Mike Pence and his traveling contingent recently stayed at Trump’s resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, 181 miles from Dublin, where Pence had official meetings.
- Trump himself relentlessly promotes his properties. Since taking office, he has visited at least one on 293 days. He recently suggested that his Doral resort in Florida host the G-7 meetings next year, saying nowhere else in the United States could compete with it. That’s laughable.
Trump says people simply like his properties. But patrons admit it’s about currying favor, supporting Trump, or something similar. Giving business to a Trump property — whether requested or tacitly expected — has become part of the cost of doing business, for political groups, lobbyists, Republican officials and candidates, businesses, foreign governments and Trump’s own administration.
Trump and other entities, like the Air Force, must cooperate with Congress. Americans need to know whether the president they elected to work for them is instead working first for himself.