BY SHAHIEN NASIRIPOUR
NEW YORK – Donald Trump on Monday will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to golfer Tiger Woods in celebration of one of the greatest comebacks in sports history after setbacks due to personal problems and injuries.
But in bestowing the honor, Trump will draw attention to an issue that has dogged him since his election: concerns that he’s using his public office to benefit his business.
Woods, one of the most celebrated golfers in history, designed Trump World Golf Club in Dubai through his company, TGR Design. The Trump Organization will operate the course owned by Damac Properties Dubai Co. when it’s scheduled to open later this year.
Trump’s ventures in Dubai, where he licensed use of his name for various projects, have netted him millions in recent years, according to his financial disclosures. “We will be doing something very special,” Trump said in 2014 when Damac announced its collaboration with Woods and the Trump Organization.
Trump’s Democratic foes haven’t questioned whether Woods deserves the medal, which the White House said is meant to recognize “especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, or world peace, or cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
ACCUSATIONS FROM DEMS
Since he took office, Trump has battled accusations from Democrats and ethics watchdogs that he’s used the White House to line his pockets.
His hotel in Washington has become a magnet for lobbyists, Republicans and others seeking to curry favor with the first president in the modern era to retain his business while serving in public office.
Government officials regularly spend money at his businesses. Companies subject to federal regulation host conferences in his banquet halls. Foreign governments pay top dollar to stay in his hotels.
The president placed his business in a trust run by his sons and a longtime lieutenant that names him as its sole beneficiary, meaning that even though he doesn’t run its day-to-day operations he ultimately will reap the profits.
Trump has said he’s lost billions of dollars since moving into the White House.
Democrats and good government groups regularly assail Trump for maintaining ownership of his business while in office, and the Department of Justice is representing him in lawsuits that allege he’s violating the U.S. Constitution by accepting payments from governments for goods and services.
A presidential medal to a sports star usually wouldn’t raise questions of conflicts. After Woods won the Masters title last month, Trump tweeted that “because of his incredible Success & Comeback in Sports (Golf) and, more importantly, LIFE, I will be presenting him with the PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM!”
Trump played golf with Woods and Jack Nicklaus, who are generally considered the two best professional golfers in history, at his course in Jupiter in February.
Trump last year awarded a medal posthumously to all-time baseball great Babe Ruth without drawing controversy. But another medal Trump awarded last year showed a different type of potential conflict: He gave one to Miriam Adelson, wife of Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, for her efforts to fight substance abuse and philanthropic support for medical research.