Don­ald Trump seems poised to deepen the muck

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - 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 places such as Canada, Scot­land and Ire­land.

We know that much — but very lit­tle more — 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.

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 done so. 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.)

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.

How Trump han­dles his business in­ter­ests must be seen as a sim­ple test of his sin­cer­ity. So far he is fail­ing mis­er­ably.

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