I didn’t intend to return to this story, but the mess surrounding Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to Ireland apparently isn’t over just yet.
As you probably know, Pence had scheduled meetings in Dublin, but he nevertheless stayed three hours away, on the other side of the country, at a golf course owned by Donald Trump. According to Pence’s office, it was the president himself who “suggested” the arrangement.
This, naturally, generated quite a bit of chatter about fresh evidence of corruption and a president who’s a little too eager to profit from his office, leading Pence and his team to criticize news reports that did little more than quote the vice president’s chief of staff, and insist that the decision about the Irish accommodations was “solely” made by Pence’s office.
Yesterday, the president addressed the subject publicly for the first time.
“Well I had no involvement, other than it’s a great place,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office before explaining that Pence’s family hails from that area, “which is really amazing.”
“But from what I understood, he was going there,” Trump said. “Then I heard he was going there, but I didn’t – it wasn’t my idea for Mike to go there. Mike went there because his family’s there. That’s my understanding of it.”
Pressed on whether he suggested Pence stay at the hotel, as the vice president’s chief of staff told reporters Tuesday, Trump said he did not.
“No, I didn’t,” the president said. “I don’t suggest anything. I don’t suggest it, nor did I with the attorney general, I never spoke to the attorney general about using my hotel,” referring to reports that Attorney General William Barr has booked a $30,000 holiday party at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., in December.
Trump added many people use his hotels because, as he put it, “they’re the best.” The president went on to say, “People like my product, what can I tell you, can’t help it.”
First, presidents are not supposed to have “products.” It’s the sort of thing that invites corruption.
Second, we’re apparently now supposed to believe that the vice president’s chief of staff lied for reasons unknown.
But even putting that aside, at the heart of Trump’s latest argument is a simple claim: his business operation is so impressive, and the venues the president profits from are so great, that it stands to reason that people like Mike Pence and Bill Barr will take their business to Trump-owned properties for reasons that have nothing to do with politics. “People,” as the president put it, simply “like” what he’s selling.
The trouble is, there’s ample evidence to the contrary.
For example, Trump bought his Irish property in 2014. The Washington Post recently reported, “Since then, Doonbeg has never reported turning a profit, losing more than $1 million every year from 2014 to 2017, according to Irish corporate records.”
And then there’s his property in Scotland, which has had similar troubles. Mother Jones reported, “Not only is Donald Trump’s Turnberry golf course losing money, but new filings in the United Kingdom show that his other Scottish golf course, Trump International Golf Links Scotland in Aberdeen, also lost a bunch of money in 2017. Neither course has ever turned a profit under Trump’s ownership—despite the president spending over $200 million to purchase the land and build out the courses—but the newly filed financial records show that the Aberdeen course’s finances have slumped since Trump announced his bid for the presidency.”
And what about his property in Miami, where Trump wants the next G7 meeting to be held? The Washington Post also reported a few months ago, “Late last year, in a Miami conference room, a consultant for President Trump’s company said business at his prized 643-room Doral resort was in sharp decline. At Doral, which Trump has listed in federal disclosures as his biggest moneymaker hotel, room rates, banquets, golf and overall revenue were all down since 2015. In two years, the resort’s net operating income – a key figure, representing the amount left over after expenses are paid – had fallen by 69 percent.”
What was that the president was saying about people liking his product?