Newly em­pow­ered Dems take aim at Trump busi­ness con­flicts

Jamaica Gleaner - - FINANCIAL GLEANER -

BE­YOND TRY­ING to get their hands on Don­ald Trump’s tax re­turns, House Democrats are pre­pared to use their new ma­jor­ity and sub­poena power to go after fi­nan­cial records that could back up their claims that he’s us­ing his pres­i­dency to en­rich him­self and his fam­ily.

After two years of be­ing blocked by the White House and the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion, Democrats hope the new year brings a new day on such is­sues as for­eign govern­ment spend­ing at Trump prop­er­ties, Trump’s for­eign li­cens­ing deals, Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ties to lob­by­ists and spe­cial in­ter­ests, and spend­ing by Trump’s char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Eli­jah Cum­mings, the Mary­land Demo­crat poised to take charge of the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee, said in a state­ment to The As­so­ci­ated Press that he in­tends to use the panel as “a check on the ex­ec­u­tive branch – not merely for po­ten­tial crim­i­nal vi­o­la­tions, but for much broader con­cerns, such as con­flicts of in­ter­est, emol­u­ments vi­o­la­tions and waste, fraud and abuse.”

While Democrats tak­ing over key House com­mit­tees have not specif­i­cally tele­graphed their tar­gets, Cum­mings’ com­mit­tee would likely seek Trump’s busi­ness tax re­turns and other com­pany-re­lated fi­nan­cial records, ac­cord­ing to two Demo­cratic con­gres­sional staffers who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity in or­der to dis­cuss post-elec­tion plans.

Trump’s per­sonal in­come taxes, which he withheld dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign and in his two years in of­fice, are ex­pected to be the purview of the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee.

In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice law al­lows House and Se­nate taxwrit­ing com­mit­tees to re­quest fed­eral re­turns, and the rank­ing Ways and Means Demo­crat, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Richard Neal of Mas­sachusetts, has sig­nalled pub­licly he would ask for them – a move the White House might fight.

‘Con­tin­u­ous au­dit’

Trump said in a wide-rang­ing news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day that he doesn’t want to re­lease his taxes be­cause they are un­der a “con­tin­u­ous au­dit”. He also said: “They’re ex­tremely com­plex. Peo­ple wouldn’t un­der­stand them.”

For the past two years, White House lawyers and the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion have re­peat­edly re­buffed Demo­cratic ef­forts to get even the most ba­sic fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion on Trump’s busi­nesses.

When Cum­mings and other Democrats asked last year for records de­tail­ing Trump’s sep­a­ra­tion from his busi­nesses, they re­ceived an eight-page glossy pam­phlet and a sin­gle email. When they asked how the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion ar­rived at the US$151,470 in prof­its it paid back to the Trea­sury for

for­eign stays at his ho­tels, they got si­lence.

Now, with Democrats in 8con­trol of the House, if Trump’s com­pa­nies or other in­ter­ests ig­nore their sub­poe­nas or try le­gal ma­noeu­vres to de­lay or spurn them, they could face a con­tempt ci­ta­tion to the House floor. Such ci­ta­tions could be taken to fed­eral court for pos­si­ble le­gal ac­tion.

Any records Democrats man­age to shake out could po­ten­tially have an im­pact on fed­eral law­suits Democrats are al­ready pur­su­ing against the pres­i­dent.

For ex­am­ple, Cum­mings and other Demo­cratic law­mak­ers last year filed a fed­eral law­suit de­mand­ing dis­clo­sures of records to de­ter­mine how Trump was ap­proved by the Gen­eral Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion to main­tain the lease of the Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel in Wash­ing­ton after he be­came pres­i­dent.

The ho­tel is housed in the his­toric Old Post Of­fice, which is owned by the fed­eral govern­ment, and its lease has a clause bar­ring any “elected of­fi­cial of the govern­ment of the United States” from de­riv­ing “any ben­e­fit.” Trump and his daugh­ter Ivanka, a se­nior White House ad­viser, both re­tained their stakes in the prop­erty.

And then there’s a law­suit against Trump by nearly 200 Demo­cratic se­na­tors and rep­re­sen­ta­tives who ac­cuse Trump of con­stantly vi­o­lat­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion’s emol­u­ments pro­vi­sion ban­ning the ac­cep­tance of gifts from for­eign and do­mes­tic in­ter­ests. Trump has not relin­quished his own­er­ship of his busi­ness em­pire.

Though a sep­a­rate case in­volv­ing sim­i­lar al­le­ga­tions filed by the at­tor­neys gen­eral of Mary­land and the Dis­trict of Columbia is fur­ther along, the DC case is the only one that has con­gres­sional Democrats as the plain­tiffs.

They ar­gue that such favours to Trump in­clude Chi­nese govern­ment trade­marks for his com­pa­nies, pay­ments for ho­tel room stays and event-space rentals by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Saudi Ara­bia and Kuwait, and pro­ceeds from Chi­nese or Emi­rati-linked govern­ment pur­chases of of­fice space in Trump Tower.

AP

The Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel in down­town Wash­ing­ton is among the Trump busi­nesses that will come un­der scru­tiny.

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