Donald Trump's selling of the White House
Columnist Bill Press discusses President-Elect Donald Trump's potential business conflicts.
Everybody knew that, sooner or later, this would be a problem. There’s no way that Donald Trump, with his name emblazoned on dozens of business properties around the world, could escape conflicts of interest if ever elected president.
What we didn’t know is that it would happen so soon. Less than two weeks after he was elected, Donald Trump is already pimping the presidency, treating it like any other Trump product or property — up for sale to the highest bidder — and doing so unabashedly.
Last week, while he was supposed to be putting together his new administration, Trump took time out to meet with three developers of Trump Towers Pune, twin high rises in Pune, India — a meeting which Trump’s office dismissed as purely social, but which Indian newspapers reported as a serious business meeting. Later, Sagar Chordia, one of the partners, confirmed to The New York Times that the developers discussed undertaking even more real estate projects together with Trump and members of his family.
And Pranav Bhakta, a Trump consultant on investments in India, told the Times that, due to Mr. Trump’s election, their properties had suddenly become even more profitable: “To say ‘I have a Trump flat or residence’ — it’s president-elect branded.”
While Trump himself was selling new projects, his managers were taking advantage of his new status to promote existing ones. On Tuesday, Nov. 15, just one week after the election, more than 100 foreign diplomats were treated to a tour of the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, just a few blocks from the White House — including a peek at the $20,000 per night, 6,300-square-foot “town house” suite. Over champagne, sliders and a sales pitch, the message was clear, according to Lynn Van Fleit, founder of the Diplomacy Matters Institute: “How are we going to build ties with the new administration?”
Some guests were even more straightforward. One Asian diplomat who refused to give his name told the Washington Post: “Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’” The hotel’s manager reports that rooms quickly sold out for the inauguration, many for five times the normal rate.
At least one other family member’s also cashing in. After her speech at the Republican National Convention, Daughter Ivanka, who has her own line of clothing and accessories, invited women to come to her website and “Shop Ivanka’s Look.” That same website now advertises the diamond bracelet she wore on “60 Minutes” at the bargain price of $10,800.
But, again, why should we be surprised? This is the same candidate who proudly promoted Trump wine, water and steaks at a March campaign event. And who steered a significant amount of campaign contributions back into his own pockets. In June, for example, The New York Times reported that the Trump campaign paid Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort, $423,000; TAG Air, $350,000, for use of his plane; $125,000 to Trump restaurants; and over $170,000 in rent to Trump Tower for his campaign headquarters.
At least, now we know why Donald Trump ran for president. In 2000, he told Fortune magazine: “It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.” He’s already succeeded in that goal, and he hasn’t even taken office yet.
The irony, of course, is that Trump spent the last month of his campaign accusing Bill and Hillary Clinton of “Pay to Play” by arranging meetings for Clinton Foundation donors with the then-secretary of state. But, no matter how ill-advised that practice, at least the money wasn’t going into Bill and Hillary’s pockets, like it is for Donald Trump. His selling of the presidency is Pay to Play on steroids.
There’s only one way for Trump to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing, as proposed by the conservative Wall Street Journal: to liquidate his business holdings and place the cash in a blind trust. But Trump refuses to do so, which means we can only expect such blatant conflicts of interest to continue and multiply — and Trump to get away with it.
There are, in fact, strict laws and ethics rules that prevent Members of Congress and all federal employees from using their job for personal profit. But those laws don’t apply to the president of the United States. Lucky for Donald Trump. Bad for the American people.