A multi-million dollar expansion of President-elect Donald Trump’s golf resort in Scotland is reportedly underway — less than a week after Trump’s attorney told reporters that the president-elect had, in an effort to distance himself from conflicts of interests with regards to his businesses, “ordered that all pending deals be terminated.”
According to the Guardian, which first reported the story on Sunday, the Trump Organization is moving forward with a plan to greatly expand the president-elect’s Trump International Golf Course Scotland, located in Aberdeenshire. The plans include construction of another 18-hole golf course, a new 450-room five-star hotel, a timeshare complex, and a private housing estate. The expansion would greatly increase the value of the property to the Trump Organization, according to the Guardian’s report.
A spokesperson for the Trump Organization told the Guardian that “implementing future phasing of existing properties does not constitute a new transaction” and therefore the Trump Organization plans to proceed with the deal, despite Trump’s assertion that he would no longer pursue foreign investments relating to his company.
But Richard Painter, a former White House chief ethics adviser to George W. Bush, told the Guardian that this new resort expansion highlights the kinds of conflicts of interests that the Trump team will try to downplay during his presidency.
“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 said. “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 Scottish golf resort has made headlines for years, and came up throughout the campaign because of the potential conflicts of interest it represents. Trump has long railed against plans to develop an offshore wind farm near the golf course, arguing that it would ruin the value of his property. Previously, Trump tried to prevent the construction of the wind farm through the British courts, taking his grievances all the way to the Britain’s Supreme Court. In December of 2015, the British Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Trump’s complaint against the wind farm was invalid.
Shortly after his election, Trump encouraged British politician and Brexit leader Nigel Farage to lobby against the wind farm, raising questions about his ability — and willingness — to separate himself from his businesses interests as president.
After the meeting with Farage, Andy Wigmore, a media consultant who ran communications for a pro-Brexit group, told the New York Times that Trump had explicitly suggested that they should lobby against wind power throughout the United Kingdom. And while Wigmore told the Times that he had already planned to lobby against wind power before the meeting, he added that Trump’s comments had “spurred us in and we will be going for it.”
Trump’s plan to separate himself from his businesses has been criticized by both ethics experts and Democratic lawmakers alike as falling far short of what is necessary to prevent conflicts of interest. Under his plan, Trump will retain ownership of the Trump Organization, and the Trump Organization will still be able to accept payments from foreign governments, as well as pursue new deals. Norm Eisen, Chief Ethics Counsel for Barack Obama and Richard Painter, Chief Ethics Counsel for George W. Bush, were both highly critical of Trump’s plan, saying in a joint statement that “the Trump plan to deal with his business conflicts announced today falls short in every respect.” Meanwhile, Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, said that the plan was inadequate and that it would leave the president vulnerable to “suspicions of corruption.”