Trump awash in con­flicts

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Eu­gene Robin­son is syndicated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. Eu­gene Robin­son Colum­nist

It is our duty to de­mand eth­i­cal in­tegrity from our pres­i­dents, and Don­ald Trump can­not be al­lowed to make him­self an ex­cep­tion.

He is al­ready try­ing hard to do so.

Amid the hus­tle and bus­tle of his tran­si­tion, ac­cord­ing to The New York Times, Pres­i­dent-elect Trump found time last week for a visit from the In­dian part­ners with whom he is de­vel­op­ing a pair of res­i­den­tial tow­ers in Pune, a sprawl­ing city not far from Mum­bai. And Trump re­ceived a con­grat­u­la­tory phone call from Ar­gen­tine Pres­i­dent Mauri­cio Macri, with whose fa­ther Trump had busi­ness deal­ings in the past. Trump and Macri de­nied pub­lished re­ports that Trump lob­bied for an of­fice build­ing project he and a group of part­ners want to build in Buenos Aires.

Also, when Trump met last week with Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, Trump’s daugh­ter Ivanka was present. That raised eye­brows be­cause Ivanka Trump, along with her brothers Don­ald Jr. and Eric, ap­par­ently will man­age Trump’s busi­ness em­pire while he is in of­fice. Trump’s lawyer called this ar­range­ment a “blind” trust, but it is no such thing. Rather, it’s a way to use the pres­i­dency for the Trump fam­ily’s fur­ther en­rich­ment.

The real and po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est are le­gion. The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported that “at least 111 Trump com­pa­nies have done busi­ness in 18 coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries across South Amer­ica, Asia and the Mid­dle East” and also Canada, Scot­land and Ire­land.

We know that much from the fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure doc­u­ments Trump filed in May. We would know more had he not bro­ken his prom­ise to re­lease his tax re­turns.

Some of Trump’s over­seas de­vel­op­ments are brick-and-mor­tar projects fi­nanced by big loans, of­ten from for­eign banks. Trump’s big­gest lender, Ger­many’s Deutsche Bank, is negotiating a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar set­tle­ment with the Jus­tice Depart­ment over abuses that con­trib­uted to the 2008 fi­nan­cial crash. Trump will soon be in charge of the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

Some other for­eign busi­ness deal­ings are ba­si­cally li­cens­ing agree­ments for the use of the Trump brand. Ac­cord­ing to the Post, Trump’s com­pany has been paid “up to $10 mil­lion” since 2014 for the right to put the Trump name atop a lux­ury apart­ment com­plex in Is­tan­bul. The owner is an oil and me­dia con­glom­er­ate closely al­lied with the govern­ment of Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, who is con­duct­ing a bru­tal cam­paign of re­pres­sion against his crit­ics, in­clud­ing the independent Turk­ish me­dia. So when deal­ing with coun­tries where he does busi­ness, will Trump put his own fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests aside and do what is best for the United States? “We shall see” is a far too gen­er­ous an­swer. Based on what we have seen in the two weeks since the elec­tion, the an­swer is a sim­ple no.

I might feel dif­fer­ently if Trump put his many busi­nesses into a gen­uine blind trust — which would mean liq­ui­dat­ing as many as­sets as pos­si­ble and hav­ing the cash man­aged by an independent trustee. This prob­a­bly is not prac­ti­cal; his many part­ners in real es­tate deals would surely ob­ject, since the build­ings would lose value once the Trump name was re­moved. But at the very least, Trump should have his em­pire man­aged by some em­i­nent out­sider who does not hap­pen to be one of his chil­dren.

What does the law re­quire? Al­most noth­ing.

As pres­i­dent, Trump is ex­empt from con­flict-of-in­ter­est statutes. He must file an an­nual dis­clo­sure doc­u­ment list­ing as­sets and in­come but is not com­pelled to re­lease his tax re­turns, though re­cent pres­i­dents have. There is no law that would keep Trump from con­tin­u­ing to run the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion while in of­fice. (Ar­guably, it might be bet­ter for him to spend time do­ing that than try­ing to de­port 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented mi­grants, take away health in­sur­ance from 20 mil­lion peo­ple, ban Mus­lims from en­ter­ing the coun­try and re­in­sti­tute tor­ture for ter­ror­ism sus­pects.)

He does have to reckon with the emol­u­ments clause of the Constitution, which bars public of­fi­cials from re­ceiv­ing gifts from for­eign gov­ern­ments with­out the con­sent of Congress.

Pri­mar­ily, though, it is go­ing to take public pres­sure to hold Trump ac­count­able. Trump’s sup­port­ers should re­call how he claimed the sys­tem was rigged and promised to “drain the swamp.” So far, he seems to in­tend to deepen the muck and make his fab­u­lously wealthy fam­ily even wealth­ier.

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