President Donald Trump’s rise to the Oval Office brought with it countless conflicts of interest as he maintains ownership, though not day-to-day operations, of his sprawling real estate business.
Nominating paying members of his luxury golf clubs is one of the those conflicts, and USA Today has updated the count to eight people who are both benefiting Trump financially and up for roles within his administration.
The news outlet noted that “presidents frequently award [ambassadorships] to friends, political allies and campaign donors,” but Trump’s nominees are different in that he is handing “foreign postings and other government jobs to his paying customers.”
Since he took office, Trump has appointed at least eight people who identified themselves as current or former members of his club to senior posts in his administration. USA TODAY identified five of those appointees in mid-2017, prompting criticism from ethics watchdogs that the selections blurred the boundary between his public duties and his private financial interests.
Since then, Trump has appointed three other members as ambassadors in Europe and Africa. One has been confirmed by the Senate.
No federal ethics rules bar Trump from nominating paying club members, and neither government ethics lawyers nor the lawmakers responsible for confirming appointments typically “question whether would-be members of the administration have private business relationships with the president,” USA Today reported.
But that has not mitigated concerns held by government ethics watchdogs.
Becoming a member of one of Trump's clubs can require initiation fees of $100,000 or more, plus thousands more a year in dues – though the amounts vary widely. The money goes to Trump’s private company. That firm is being held in a trust during his presidency, but Trump is its sole beneficiary, entitled to withdraw money from it whenever he chooses.
Trump’s U.S. golf clubs alone brought in about $600 million in 2015 and 2016, according to his financial disclosure reports. It is unknown how much of that is profit because, unlike recent presidents, Trump has not released his tax returns.
Members of Trump’s Florida and New Jersey golf clubs nominated for positions so far include:
Lana Marks, a luxury handbag designer Trump nominated last year as ambassador to South Africa, grew up in that country, but moved away more than four decades ago. She has spent most of her career building a business around bags that can cost $10,000 or more.
Adrian Zuckerman, a New York real estate lawyer, to be the U.S. ambassador to Romania last year. Zuckerman registered his golf handicap through Trump’s club in Bedminster, New Jersey, a service the club has said is available only to members. Scores he posted on a public website show he played at the club eight times in 2017 on days when Trump was visiting. (He posted scores between 83 and 100 on those days.)
Trump also nominated David Cornstein as ambassador to Hungary. Cornstein and his wife, Sheila, both registered their golf handicaps through Trump’s club in West Palm Beach.
The Senate confirmed Cornstein to the post in 2018. ...
Since taking the job, Cornstein has been a vocal defender of Hungary's government as its human rights record came under attack. And he failed to win an agreement to prevent Prime Minister Viktor Orban from expelling an American university that had operated in the country for more than two decades.
Trump previously named Callista Gingrich, a longtime member of his Virginia golf club and wife of former House speaker and Trump confidant Newt Gingrich, as the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. He chose Robin Bernstein, a founding member of Mar-a-Lago, as ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Both were confirmed by the Senate.
He also named three otherclub members to jobs in the administration: Adolfo Marzol, former director of a mortgage insurance firm, as a senior adviser at the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Washington lawyer Barry Nigro, a Washington lawyer, as second in command of the Justice Department's antitrust arm and Andrew Giuliani, the son of Trump's private lawyer Rudy Giuliani, to a public liaison post.
USA Today noted that this list does not include Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law, who both hold White House positions and are also members of Trump’s West Palm Beach club.
“You have to question whether these members of his clubs are getting these appointments because they deserve them or because they’re his paying customers,” said Jordan Libowitz, the communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has been sharply critical of Trump’s decision to retain ownership of his businesses while in the White House.
“You get into really bad territory when people start wondering if the president has put the government up for sale.”