It’s another case of President Trump trying to use the power of his office for personal gain, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
In an act that left U.S. diplomats “deeply unsettled,” the Times says, Trump asked the American ambassador to Britain to try to steer the British Open golf tournament to Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland.
The ambassador, Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson, was advised not to do it by his deputy, Lewis Lukens, who warned that it would be “an unethical use of the presidency for private gain,” the Times says, citing “three people with knowledge of the episode.”
But according to the Times’ sources, Johnson — who is also owner of the NFL’s New York Jets and a generous donor to Republican candidates — did it, proposing to Britain’s secretary of state for Scotland that Turnberry host the Open.
The idea apparently went nowhere.
Precise dates are unclear, but all this apparently took place shortly after Johnson became ambassador in November 2017, possibly in early 2018. A few months later Johnson forced out Lukens, a career diplomat.
The White House and the State Department declined to comment.
Trump, as president, is exempt from federal law making it a crminal offense to use the power of his office in ways that affect his personal financial interest.
But there is also that Constitutional “emoluments clause” that prohibits federal officials from accepting gifts from foreign governments, and some ethics experts say the Turnberry episode might have crossed that line, especially if it had succeeded.
Trump has a well-known track record of trying to use the presidency to enrich his own properties.
Last year, the White House announced that the Group of 7 industrialized nations would hold a meeting at Trump National Doral resort in Miami — which touched off “a political storm,” as the Times puts it, and Trump shifted the meeting site to Camp David in Maryland.
The president also benefits enormously from his Trump International Hotel in Washington, which draws millions from lobbyists in town seeking deals and favors from the government — as well as his own frequent use of his own properties, which draw millions in taxpayer dollars for security and transportation, including Air Force One.
“But Mr. Trump and his children have struggled for more than a decade to attract professional golf tournaments to the family’s 16 golf courses,” the Times says, noting that the most recent annual report for Turnberry shows that in 2018 it lost nearly $1 million on $19 million in sales.
Commenting on the Times story, Washington Post columnist Philip Bump says Trump’s pattern of using his position to line his own pockets is “so well-established by now that it barely attracts attention….”
“What sets this apart is either the brazenness or the sloppiness,” Bump writes. “Of course a president shouldn’t ask his ambassador to try to use his position — and the weight of American diplomacy — for a personal financial favor.”