A multimillion-dollar expansion of Donald Trump’s Scottish golf resort is proceeding despite a promise just days ago by his attorneys that “no new foreign deals will be made whatsoever” by the president-elect’s businesses, in an effort to avoid conflicts of interest during his presidency.
The Aberdeenshire Council is considering his application for a second 18-hole golf course and more housing in the Trump International Golf Links Scotland operation. The expansion would substantially grow the complex and include a 450-room five-star hotel, timeshare complex and private housing estate, The Guardian reported Saturday. Changes are expected to significantly boost the value of the operation to the Trump Organization.
Trump’s attorney Sheri Dillon announced at his press conference last week that in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest, her client has “ordered that all pending deals be terminated.” Trump is also arranging to turn over management of his companies to his adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, but will maintain ownership and investments in his American and global companies and real estate deals. It’s an arrangement that the head of the Office of Government Ethics said fails to meet an ethics standard met by every other president in the last four decades.
Trump owns 100 percent of the Trump International Golf Links Scotland, according to the Guardian.
A written statement later issued by Dillon’s law firm Morgan Lewis emphasized that Trump’s promise “prohibits — without exception — new foreign deals during the duration of President-elect Trump’s presidency.”
It added: “Specifically, the Trust and The Trump Organization will be prohibited at all times ... from engaging in any new deals with respect to the use of the ‘Trump’ brand or any trademark, trade name, or marketing intangibles associated with The Trump Organization or Donald J. Trump in any foreign jurisdictions.”
But now Trump’s transition team insists that the golf resort expansion doesn’t constitute a new deal.
“Implementing future phasing of existing properties does not constitute a new transaction so we intend to proceed,” a spokeswoman told the Scottish Sunday Herald.
Richard Painter, a former White House chief ethics adviser to George W. Bush, called the situation a “perfect example” of obvious conflicts of interest that Trump will apparently continue to attempt to obfuscate.
“He’s using language which is ambiguous. It clearly illustrates that around the world, he will simply expand around the various holdings and as they continue to expand, the conflicts of interest expand,” Painter told the Guardian. “It’s like [the board game] Monopoly: if you have one house on Boardwalk, it’s not a new deal to go for three hotels on Boardwalk.”
Trump’s Aberdeenshire golf resort is particularly notable because it dramatically raised early fears about his conflicts of interest — and concerns that he would push his own business interests as president ahead of what might be best for the public. In a meeting with British politician Nigel Farage shortly after Trump’s election, Trump complained that planned offshore wind farms providing environment-protecting alternative energy would mar the views at his course. He encouraged Farage and his entourage to lobby against the farms.
Scottish residents protested against Trump when he visited last June because of how he handled the golf resort development. Neighbors are suing him because he built a fence blocking a sea view at the house of homeowners who refused to sell to him, and then sent them a bill for it.
“You watch, Mexico won’t pay either,” homeowner David Milne told the New York Times.
The Guardian has reported that Trump hasn’t paid UK taxes on his courses in Aberdeenshire and Turnberry in Ayrshire because he has lost nearly $31 million on his Scottish golf empire on an investment of some $123 million.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the Aberdeenshire Council had approved Trump’s application for a second golf course and more housing on his resort. It is processing the application.