Trump’s Conflicts: Ticking Time Bomb

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Trump’s Conflicts: Ticking Time Bomb Empty Trump’s Conflicts: Ticking Time Bomb

Post by Guest on Sat Jan 21, 2017 4:04 pm

“Once Mr. Trump takes the oath of office, that will be a violation of the Constitution,” said attorney Norman Eisen in December. Well, here we are.

en, Barack Obama’s former special counsel for ethics and government reform, was echoed then by President George W. Bush’s ethics lawyer, Richard Painter. “We have foreign state-owned banks that lease space in Trump buildings, loans from the Bank of China, the various Trump businesses,” Painter said. “All of that needs to be unwound by January 20, or he needs to sell those businesses.” Donald Trump is now president and, with an ethical cloud hanging over his administration, is uniquely susceptible to distraction and scandal.

As Trump told reporters at his last press conference before taking the oath of office, the president has received counsel that leads him to believe he is in “a no conflict situation.” Both Painter and Eisen disagree with this bit of constitutional scholarship, but it would be up to the Congress to adjudicate any perceived violation of the public trust. For now, the GOP-led legislature has no appetite for a squabble with the newly elected GOP president. To rob him of political capital is to sacrifice their own. That incentive structure could, however, change as the list of nagging conflicts mounts.

Just hours ago, the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) formally requested the General Services Administration, which holds the lease on the Washington D.C. Old Post Office Building and the site of the new Trump hotel, “immediately” clarify whether Trump is in violation of the agreement’s terms. The lease states that no “elected official” of the U.S. government can have any stake in the building’s ownership. Trump pledged at a January press conference to review and restructure his holdings, but the extent of that restructuring is not yet clear. It seems it will be up to the GSA and not the White House to inform the public as to whether Trump is in compliance with the terms of that lease.

The ACLU joined CREW in filing a series of Freedom of Information Act requests on Friday involving “President Trump’s actual or potential conflicts of interest relating to his business and family connections.” Beyond interests that may conflict with constitutional proscriptions on profiting from elected office, the ACLU seeks information relating to Trump’s foreign debt, the civil lawsuits the president is currently litigating, and whether Trump’s elevation of his son-in-law to an advisory post violates nepotism laws.

Neither Eisen nor Painter was satisfied with Trump’s contention that he will task his family members with overseeing his assets as president. Following Trump’s election, the Washington Post quoted a variety of foreign officials who made a conspicuous effort to patronize Trump-branded properties to get on the new president’s good side. The two ethics attorneys insist that the Trump Organization’s plan to donate the profits from its hotels to charity is not good enough.

“What about foreign sovereign payments to buy his condos or apartments, for use of his office buildings or his golf courses, not to mention his massive foreign government bank loans, and other benefits?” they ask in a recent op-ed. “And why only profits, when the Justice Department has long held that the emoluments clause covers any revenue from foreign governments — not simply profits?”

At his press conference, Trump assured the public that he declined a $2 billion development deal he was offered as recently as four weeks ago. Contrary to his instincts, apparently, that does not reassure good government advocates. Since his election, Trump has taken meetings and been photographed with developers with whom he has worked in India and who have close ties to the government in New Delhi. Trump Organization hotels in Brazil, Ireland, and Scotland have ongoing disputes with local authorities. The Trump Organization is even going ahead with a plan to expand an Aberdeen-based golf course and resort.

Though Trump’s organization has seemingly attempted to unwind some of its conflicts—notably a questionable development deal in Azerbaijan linked to the country’s billionaire transportation minister—many preexisting conflicts remain outstanding. An attorney representing the Trump Organization clarified that it is their view that the firm’s pledge not to pursue new foreign investments does not preclude moving ahead with existing projects.

Trump himself admitted in December of 2015 to having “a little conflict of interest” with regard to a critical and increasingly frustrating U.S. ally, Turkey, because “I have a major, major building in Istanbul.” In that interview, which he gave to then-Breitbart News proprietor and current White House senior adviser Steve Bannon, Trump alleged that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was “on the side of ISIS.” In June, citing what he called Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric,” Erdogan demanded the Trump hotel project in Istanbul ditch the Trump brand.

President Trump is due some sympathy. It is almost impossible to unwind a sprawling, multi-company group like the Trump Organization. Trump could not have divested entirely, nor could he have liquidated these holdings to put them into a blind trust. Trump did not, however, make any effort to resolve his conflicts before November 8 in the event he won the election. This is a problem of his own making, but it’s not just his problem—it’s a problem for congressional Republicans, too. It only takes one scandal, one credible quid pro quo allegation to paralyze the already unpopular new administration.

Neither Republicans in Congress nor Donald Trump want to come into conflict, but conflict may be inevitable. Amid the hope and festivities of Inauguration Day, it’s hard to ignore the storm clouds gathering on the horizon.


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