Con­flicts of in­ter­est?

Coun­tries where the pres­i­dent has busi­ness in­ter­ests were not hit by ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROS­ALIND S. HELDERMAN ros­alind.helderman@wash­post.com

The seven na­tions tar­geted for new vis­i­ta­tion re­stric­tions by Pres­i­dent Trump on Fri­day all have some­thing in com­mon: They are places he does not ap­pear to have any busi­ness in­ter­ests.

The ex­ec­u­tive order he signed Fri­day bars all en­try for the next 90 days by trav­el­ers from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Ye­men, Su­dan, So­ma­lia and Libya. Ex­cluded from the lists are sev­eral ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim na­tions where the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion is ac­tive and which in some cases have also faced trou­ble­some is­sues with ter­ror­ism.

Ac­cord­ing to the text of the order, the re­stric­tion ap­plies to coun­tries that have al­ready been ex­cluded from pro­grams al­low­ing peo­ple to travel to the United States with­out a visa be­cause of con­cerns over ter­ror­ism. Hew­ing closely to na­tions al­ready named as ter­ror­ism con­cerns else­where in law might have al­lowed the White House to avoid an­ger­ing some more pow­er­ful and wealthy ma­jor­ity Mus­lim al­lies, such as Egypt.

But with­out divest­ing from his com­pany, as bi­par­ti­san ethics ex­perts had ad­vised, Trump is now fac­ing ques­tions about whether he de­signed the new rules with his own busi­ness at least partly in mind.

“He needs to sell his busi­nesses out­side his fam­ily and place the as­sets in a blind trust, other­wise ev­ery de­ci­sion he makes peo­ple are go­ing to ques­tion if he’s mak­ing the de­ci­sion in the in­ter­ests of the Amer­i­can peo­ple or his own bot­tom line,” said Jor­dan Li­bowitz, the spokesman for Cit­i­zens for Re­spon­si­bil­ity and Ethics in Wash­ing­ton, a lib­eral watch­dog group. The group has filed a law­suit ar­gu­ing that Trump is al­ready in vi­o­la­tion of a con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion bar­ring fed­eral of­fi­cials from ac­cept­ing pay­ments from for­eign of­fi­cials.

Ear­lier in the week, Norm Eisen, the group’s chair­man and a for­mer ethics ad­viser to Barack Obama, tweeted: “WARNING: Mr. Pres. your Mus­lim ban ex­cludes coun­tries where you have busi­ness in­ter­ests. That is a CON­STI­TU­TIONAL VI­O­LA­TION. See u in court.”

Stephanie Gr­isham, a White House spokes­woman, said, “The high-risk ter­ri­to­ries are based on Con­gres­sional statute and noth­ing else.”

Trump has said he has handed man­age­ment of his real es­tate, licensing and mer­chan­dis­ing busi­ness over to his adult sons to avoid the per­cep­tion that he is mak­ing pres­i­den­tial de­ci­sions to boost his own busi­ness. But he has re­tained own­er­ship of the com­pany, mean­ing that if it thrives dur­ing his pres­i­dency, he will per­son­ally profit.

The new ex­ec­u­tive order points to the com­pli­ca­tions that are likely to arise from the ar­range­ment.

Trump’s order makes no men­tion of Tur­key, which has faced sev­eral ter­ror­ist at­tacks in re­cent months. On Wed­nes­day, the State De­part­ment up­dated a travel warning for Amer­i­cans vis­it­ing Tur­key, not­ing that “an in­crease in anti-Amer­i­can rhetoric has the po­ten­tial to in­spire in­de­pen­dent ac­tors to carry out acts of vi­o­lence against US cit­i­zens.”

Trump has li­censed his name to two luxury tow­ers in Is­tan­bul. A Turk­ish com­pany also man­u­fac­tures a line of Trump-branded home fur­nish­ings. Trump’s most re­cent fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure, filed in May when he was a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, showed that he had earned as much as $6 mil­lion in the pre­vi­ous year from the deals.

“I have a lit­tle con­flict of in­ter­est ’cause I have a ma­jor, ma­jor build­ing in Is­tan­bul,” he said in a De­cem­ber 2015 in­ter­view with Bre­it­bart News. More re­cently, he has in­sisted that he has no con­flicts be­cause laws mak­ing con­flicts il­le­gal do not ap­ply to the pres­i­dent.

Also un­touched by Fri­day’s ex­ec­u­tive order is the United Arab Emirates, a pow­er­ful Mus­lim ally with whom the United States nev­er­the­less has com­pli­cated re­la­tions. Trump has li­censed his name to a Dubai golf re­sort, as well as a luxury home de­vel­op­ment and spa.

Trump has seemed par­tic­u­larly dis­in­clined to di­vorce him­self of in­ter­ests in the project. Its devel­oper, Hus­sain Sa­jwani, at­tended a New Year’s Eve party at Trump’s Florida es­tate, Mar-a-Lago, where a video showed Trump sin­gling him out for praise, call­ing him and his fam­ily “the most beau­ti­ful peo­ple.”

Trump re­turned to the topic of his Dubai part­ner­ship again in mid-January at a news con­fer­ence in­tended to demon­strate how he was sep­a­rat­ing from his busi­ness.

“Over the week­end, I was of­fered $2 bil­lion to do a deal in Dubai with a very, very, very amaz­ing man, a great, great devel­oper from the Mid­dle East — Hus­sein, Da­mac, a friend of mine, great guy. And I was of­fered $2 bil­lion to do a deal in Dubai — a num­ber of deals, and I turned it down,” Trump said then, re­fer­ring to Sa­jwani’s de­vel­op­ment com­pany.

His point was that he was vol­un­tar­ily turn­ing aside new projects that could raise eth­i­cal ques­tions. An at­tor­ney for the com­pany an­nounced at the same event that the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion will em­bark on no new for­eign deals while Trump is in of­fice. But the com­ment also served as a re­minder that Trump’s busi­ness, in­cluded the per­sonal re­la­tion­ships he forged with wealthy part­ners around the world, was still very much on his mind as he en­tered the pres­i­dency.

The ex­ec­u­tive order makes no men­tion of Saudi Ara­bia, home of 15 of the 19 ter­ror­ists in­volved in the 9/11 at­tacks. The Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion had in­cor­po­rated sev­eral lim­ited li­a­bil­ity com­pa­nies in prepa­ra­tion for an at­tempt to build a ho­tel in Saudi Ara­bia, show­ing an in­ter­est in ex­pan­sion in the coun­try. The com­pany can­celed those in­cor­po­ra­tions in De­cem­ber, in­di­cat­ing that no project is mov­ing for­ward.

Ex­cluded as well is In­done­sia, the world’s largest ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim na­tion, where there are two large Trump-branded re­sorts un­der­way, built in part­ner­ship with pow­er­ful lo­cal in­ter­ests.

“To be blunt, we re­ally don’t know what to make of which mo­tives are driv­ing this pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sions,” said Ka­mal Es­sa­heb, di­rec­tor of pol­icy and ad­vo­cacy for the Na­tional Im­mi­gra­tion Law Cen­ter. “From what we could tell from his cam­paign and his ac­tions since he be­came pres­i­dent, what seems to be first and fore­most on his mind is his own self-in­ter­est and an ob­ses­sion with his brand.”

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