W.H. Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, during a press conference at the White House, announces the 2020 G7 summit will be held at Trump Doral in Miami. White House
WASHINGTON – The selection process for next year’s G-7 summit of leading industrial nations is a stark departure from past precedents for selecting the site, former administration officials say.
Former Barack Obama and George W. Bush administration officials said the Trump Doral resort should not even have been under consideration because of the perception of conflicts of interest.
Their comments to USA TODAY came after White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s Thursday announcement that the 2020 G-7 summit of leading industrial nations would be hosted at the Trump National Resort in Doral, Fla., was met with fury from Democrats and at least one Republican senator.
In a statement, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler called it “among the most brazen examples yet of the President’s corruption,” and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters it was not appropriate to use taxpayer dollars at a Trump resort.
In a press briefing about the administration’s search process, Mulvaney argued they had used the same criteria as previous administrations, but “it became apparent at the end of that process that Doral was, by far and away – far and away – the best physical facility for this meeting.”
The Trump National Doral resort is owned by the Trump Organization, a collection of business entities owned mostly by President Donald Trump, though it is unclear what degree of involvement he has in the management in the company.
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‘You wouldn’t even look at the property’
“You wouldn’t even look at the property because it doesn’t matter if it’s the best property on Earth. There’s a perception of impropriety,” said Johanna Maska, who handled the Obama administration’s advance preparations for the 2012 G-8 in Camp David, Md.
She noted that while Hawaii and Chicago had been under consideration for the 2012 G-8, they had taken all possible steps to work with city vendors and avoid any potential conflicts of interest. Though, “I guess it’s a little different when the vendor is your family,” she said.
Greg Jenkins, who worked on the Bush administration’s advance preparations for the 2004 G-8 in Sea Island, Ga., said that administration would have never considered holding the event at a venue like the Bush ranch in Texas.
“I mean, to be handed a list of places, like ‘oh, look at that. Looks like the only place it’s going to work in all of America is a place that happens to be owned by the President.’ Right. Well, that’s not a coincidence at all,” said Greg Jenkins, who worked on the Bush administration’s advance preparations for the 2004 G-8 in Sea Island, Ga.
How a summit is planned
Summits like the G-7 are a massive undertaking, with delegations following every world leader and thousands of journalists from international press corps descending on the location.
According to Maska, the “host country has a lot of control” over the planning of summits of world leaders like the G-7 or the G-20, unlike other summits like those for NATO, which have strict guidelines.
There are “a number of different pressing, different staff needs, different leader needs, security needs, and all of those are taken into account,” she explained.
It has to be a secure venue, with private entrances, she noted. One would not want to hold it in a hotel with lots of glass windows, she explained.
Other major concerns would be potential locations for photo ops, for each delegation to have a working space, and locations for leaders to meet up with each other.
Jenkins said that in the Bush administration, it was at least a two-step process to identify a venue.
“We identified a bunch of venues around the country that would be just candidates to be considered,” he explained. “And we did what essentially a lot of desk-side research first, to cull the list,” before anyone flew out to visit sites.
Mike Ready, who oversaw security coordination for the Secret Service for large events like the G-7, said they would have assessed “The security impact on where we’re going. Is it something that we can secure easily? Or is this something that’s going to be, you know, a severe challenge or maybe have a major impact on the community be there?”
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A city prepares
Despite some earlier reports, the city was not entirely blindsided by the announcement.
The Trump administration had advised the city of the possibility of the G-7 being held there last June after news had leaked, Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez told USA TODAY.
The city had budgeted about $311,000 for potential overtime pay and equipment for officers in the event the G-7 were to be held there, he said.
Since June, though, the mayor said he had not had any contact with the Trump administration or the Secret Service, nor had his police chief been in contact with the administration.
Since the announcement, he had one “brief conversation” with a staffer in the White House Intergovernmental Affairs Office.
He looked forward to seeing the G-7 come to Doral, though, calling it a “great opportunity for us to showcase ourselves to the rest of the United States and the world.”
Bermudez said he was a former Democrat, now a registered Republican who had voted for Trump in 2016, though the city’s mayoral position was nonpartisan.
The hosting of a summit of world leaders at a resort with ties to the presidency is not without precedent. The 1976 G-7 summit was held at a resort in Puerto Rico owned by Laurance Rockefeller, the younger brother of then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.
Nelson Rockefeller, as CBS News reports, took much more extensive steps to disclose his financial dealings and released a dozen years of tax returns once he became vice president.
Trump, however, has not released his tax returns.
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