Now we know the outrageous scale of the Trumps’ White House dividend
I’m feeling nostalgic for Hillary’s Goldman Sachs speaking fees. Remember when we got our ethical knickers in a twist over Clinton’s $225,000 (£170,000) Wall Street speeches? Those worries seem positively quaint when compared with what’s happening now. At least Bill and Hillary put off their offensive buckraking until after they had left public office. The Trump family shows no such restraint. Why wait? Donald, Ivanka and Jared are getting theirs while serving in the White House. And, as with much scandalous behaviour in Washington these days, they insist their behaviour is perfectly acceptable.
All three are still connected to the highly profitable companies they operated in New York before Trump’s election in 2016. Since their arrival in Washington, the president and Javanka have been reaping profits from the various family businesses in tandem with their public service, while cynically pretending they have suspended their wheeling and dealing. But the president still monitors who stays at the Trump International Hotel down the street from the White House; Ivanka is still winning trademarks for her clothing line in the notoriously difficult to penetrate Chinese market; and Jared Kushner took in more money from his family real estate empire in 2017, the first year of the Trump administration, than he did the previous year.
This week, Kushner’s new financial disclosure records were released, showing the considerable rise in his assets. Their value ranged between $179m and $735m, up from a range of $137m to $609m the previous year. (White House officials are required to report their assets in broad ranges). For Jared, it was a very good year, indeed.
Just last month came the happy news that Ivanka’s brand had won seven additional Chinese patents for items ranging from cushions to books. The new patents were issued at the same time that her father vowed to save ZTE, a major Chinese telecommunications company, from going bust – a rare and surprising move for a president who is a foreign trade hardliner. The New York Times noted: “Even as Mr Trump contends with Beijing on issues like security and trade, his family and the company that bears his name are trying to make money off their brand in China’s flush and potentially promising market.”
Then there is the president himself. His Trump International Hotel is doing brisk business, its lobby always full of White House favour-seekers, its pricey rooms often filled with industry executives and lobbyists. The hotel is siphoning business from other local hotels and convention centres, according to the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland, which have both filed lawsuits. They charge that Trump’s profits from the hotel violate the US constitution’s anti-corruption clauses. The Justice department, unsurprisingly, has defended the president’s continuing role as a hotelier, but a federal judge on Monday sharply criticised the department’s legal reasoning. The case is probably heading for the US supreme court.
All of this money-grubbing comports with everything we know about the Trump family, whose addiction to luxury and wealth is always on conspicuous display, whether on reality television or on the world stage. David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, recently summed up the “Trumpian world-view” writing, “Trump takes every relationship that has historically been based on affection, loyalty, trust and reciprocity and turned it into a relationship based on competition, self-interest, suspicion and efforts to establish dominance.” Mainly, Brooks was talking about the G-7 debacle but his words apply perfectly to the family’s self-interest and flouting of ethical rules that have governed Washington for centuries. The Trump family’s ethical tin ear is hardly surprising, but their greed is disgusting nonetheless. The administration and its Republican lackeys blew a hole in the deficit with an enormous tax cut and now they are trying to tax almost all the programmes that help the poor and elderly get by. The false rationale: to bring down the deficit.
Despite the supreme court upholding Obamacare, the Justice department pledged its support for a radical rightwing lawsuit trying, once again, to gut the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Meanwhile, Ben Carson’s tenure at the department of Housing and Urban Development has been marked by Dickensian cruelty. He has proposed legislation to increase by 20% the monthly rent that the most impoverished families pay for public housing. He has also called for eliminating the childcare and medical deductions that poor families in public housing can subtract from their rent. Other Trump cabinet officials gratuitously milk taxpayers for items such as first-class travel, while gutting consumer financial protection.
Here is a modest proposal: Ivanka and Jared should consider contributing a portion of their gains from sweetheart real estate deals and Chinese favours to help restore funds for the few programmes that still contribute to the health and welfare of Americans in need.
It was only two years ago that we were fretting over the Clinton Foundation taking foreign money, Hillary’s paid speeches, and that private email server. Looking back, it seems like a golden period.
• Jill Abramson is a Guardian US columnist
Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump. ‘This week, Kushner’s new financial disclosure records were released … Their value ranged between $179m and $735m.’
.The Trump International Hotel in Washington DC.