Meet­ing with busi­ness part­ners raises con­cerns

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Del Quentin Wil­ber del.wil­ber@la­

The pres­i­dent-elect met with prospec­tive ad­min­is­tra­ton mem­bers Sun­day, as aides strug­gled with how to sep­a­rate his busi­ness in­ter­ests from gov­ern­ment.

WASH­ING­TON — As Pres­i­dent- elect Don­ald Trump con­tin­ued the work of form­ing his new ad­min­is­tra­tion Sun­day, aides con­tin­ued to strug­gle with some of the bag­gage he car­ries with him — es­pe­cially how to sep­a­rate his busi­ness in­ter­ests from gov­ern­ment and the in­flam­ma­tory rhetoric about Mus­lims that marked his cam­paign.

Trump met with a se­ries of men — and one wo­man — who may be un­der con­sid­er­a­tion for high-level ap­point­ments. Among them were cam­paign loy­al­ists, in­clud­ing Rudy Gi­u­liani, the for­mer New York City mayor, and Chris Christie, the gov­er­nor of New Jer­sey, but also some out­siders, like Jonathan Gray, a Wall Street ex­ec­u­tive and prom­i­nent Demo­cratic donor, and Robert John­son, the founder of the Black En­ter­tain­ment Tele­vi­sion cable net­work.

“We’ve made a cou­ple of deals,” the pres­i­dent-elect said late in the day to re­porters wait­ing at his golf re­sort in Bedminster, N.J., in­di­cat­ing that fur­ther Cab­i­net an­nounce­ments could come soon.

Rep. Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers, R-Wash., a mem­ber of the House GOP lead­er­ship, was the only wo­man on Sun­day’s list, which also in­cluded Ari Emanuel, the prom­i­nent Hol­ly­wood agent and brother of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s for­mer White House chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“Great guy. Great friend of mine,” Trump said.

While busy with his tran­si­tion, the pres­i­dent-elect has found time re­cently for other meet­ings, in­clud­ing one with three in­vestors from In­dia who are part­ners with him in a lux­ury com­plex out­side Mum­bai.

A spokesper­son for Trump in­sisted that the meet­ing, first re­ported by The New York Times, was just a cour­tesy call, but it re­newed ques­tions about how Trump could avoid con­flicts of in­ter­est while re­tain­ing an own­er­ship stake in his far-flung net­work of busi­nesses.

Vice Pres­i­dent- elect Mike Pence in­sisted dur­ing a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view Sun­day that Trump would “cre­ate the proper sep­a­ra­tion.”

In an in­ter­view with “Fox News Sun­day,” Pence said lawyers and ex­perts were work­ing on how to suc­cess­fully un­tan­gle Trump’s hold­ings from the pres­i­dency.

“I’m very con­fi­dent work­ing with the best le­gal minds in the coun­try that the pres­i­dent-elect and his fam­ily will cre­ate the proper sep­a­ra­tion from his busi­ness go­ing for­ward,” Pence told host Chris Wal­lace.

Trump has said he will al­low his adult chil­dren to run his busi­ness ven­tures; gov­ern­ment watch­dogs have said he should di­vest his hold­ings or set up a blind trust.

Among the po­ten­tial prob­lems: Trump’s com­pany has op­er­a­tions in other coun­tries, of­ten in con­nec­tion with for­eign gov­ern­ments that could steer money to­ward his fam­ily in an ef­fort to in­flu­ence his de­ci­sions.

At a news con­fer­ence in Lima, Peru, where he was wind­ing up a sum­mit of lead­ers from Asia and the Pa­cific, Obama point­edly noted that his ad­min­is­tra­tion had man­aged to go eight years with­out a ma­jor ethics scan­dal be­cause White House lawyers had in­sisted that he and his aides “not just meet the let­ter of the law.”

While Trump aides con­tin­ued to deal with ques­tions about po­ten­tial con­flicts, they also faced con­tro­versy over some of their re­marks about Is­lam.

Reince Priebus, Trump’s de­signee to be the White House chief of staff, de­fended re­marks made by re­tired Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, that crit­i­cized Is­lam.

“Clearly there are some as­pects of that faith that are prob­lem­atic,” Priebus said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Asked about Flynn’s state­ment that Is­lam was a po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy masked be­hind a re­li­gion, Priebus said that “phras­ing can al­ways be done dif­fer­ently.”

But he praised Flynn as “an un­be­liev­ably gifted, smart per­son” who has Trump’s con­fi­dence.

The coun­try’s largest Mus­lim ad­vo­cacy group con­demned Flynn’s re­marks as ex­am­ples of “Is­lama­pho­bia.”

“Our na­tion is not served by the den­i­gra­tion of Is­lam or by the in­tro­duc­tion of in­ef­fec­tive and dis­crim­i­na­tory poli­cies tar­get­ing Mus­lims,” said Robert McCaw, gov­ern­ment af­fairs di­rec­tor for the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can-Is­lamic Re­la­tions.

In his in­ter­view with Fox News, Pence also ad­dressed the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing his at­ten­dance at the hit Broadway show “Hamil­ton.” He was cheered and jeered as he en­tered the theater Fri­day, and af­ter the per­for­mance, an ac­tor di­rected a brief speech about Amer­i­can values to Pence.

Trump took to Twit­ter the next day — and again Sun­day — to chas­tise the show’s cast and de­mand an apol­ogy. The dis­pute flew across so­cial me­dia over the week­end, spark­ing the hash­tag #boy­cotthamil­ton.

His tweets about Hamil­ton diverted at least some at­ten­tion from the crit­i­cism of Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, his choice for at­tor­ney gen­eral, his nam­ing of Stephen Ban­non to be a se­nior White House of­fi­cial and the $25 mil­lion he agreed to pay to set­tle claims that his Trump Univer­sity real es­tate sem­i­nars de­frauded stu­dents.

A self-de­scribed his­tory buff, Pence said he en­joyed the mu­si­cal.

“It is a great, great show,” he said, call­ing it “in­cred­i­ble pro­duc­tion” by “in­cred­i­bly tal­ented peo­ple.”


Vice Pres­i­dent-elect Mike Pence, left, said dur­ing an in­ter­view Sun­day that le­gal ex­perts will en­sure Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency won’t be en­meshed with his busi­ness in­ter­ests.


Po­lit­i­cal ally Chris Christie vis­its Don­ald Trump.


Rep. Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers and Don­ald Trump.

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