Don­ald Trump's selling of the White House

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Bill Press is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Me­dia Ser­vices. His email ad­dress is: bill@ bill­press.com. Bill Press

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.

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