ACTION ALERT: President-elect's Investments Pose Conflicts of Interest
November 28, 2016
Murshed Zaheed / Credo Action & Jeff Nesbit / TIME Magazine
No one knows the full extent of Trump's foreign financial and business entanglements because of his unprecedented secrecy and refusal to release his tax returns. Government ethics experts have already said Trump is poised to violate the Constitution by personally profiting from the presidency. On top of it all, we still do not know whether he is indebted to foreign interests that would give them influence over the commander in chief.
ACTION ALERT: Investigate Trump's Massive Web of Potential Corruption
Murshed Zaheed, Political Director / Credo Action
Petition to House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz:
"Immediately investigate President-elect Donald Trump's financial arrangements to ensure he does not have any actual or perceived conflicts of interest and he and his advisors comply with all legal and regulatory ethical requirements when he assumes the presidency."
(November 27, 2016) -- Donald Trump is a lifelong scam artist who has used his fame to swindle people out of their hard-earned money. Now, he appears to be planning to use the presidency of the United States to line his own pocket -- putting all of us at risk.
No one knows the full extent of Trump's foreign financial and business entanglements because of his unprecedented secrecy and refusal to release his tax returns. Government ethics experts have already said Trump is poised to violate the Constitution by personally profiting from the presidency. On top of it all, we still do not know whether he is indebted to foreign interests that would give them influence over the commander in chief. 1,2,3
For years, House Republicans spent millions investigating Sec. Hillary Clinton in what one Republican leader later admitted was an attempt to score partisan points.4 Now, Rep. Elijah Cummings is calling on the Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee to investigate the real, dangerous and growing potential corruption of a Trump presidency.
Trump's massive web of potential corruption is on a never-before-seen scale. Past presidents have sold assets and placed money and investments in blind trusts. Trump, by contrast, claims to be handing over his businesses to his children. But in the days since the election, he has continued pushing his own financial interests.
Because he is still hiding the full extent of his business entanglements, we have no way of knowing if he is under the thumb of foreign interests, whether his business interests in the Middle East or other countries run counter to American foreign policy or whether he is merely using the presidency to enrich himself. 5,6
Here are the examples of potential corruption that have emerged just since Nov. 8: 7,8,9
* Trump's children have a role in the presidential transition, despite claims that they will take over the Trump business from their father.
* Ivanka Trump attended a meeting with the Japanese prime minister and reportedly joined a phone call between her father and the president of Argentina.
* A long-stalled Trump project in Argentina mysteriously got the green light to move forward days after that phone call.
* Trump reportedly used his meeting with British politicians to push them to block offshore wind farms that he believes will sully the view from his Scotland golf courses.
* Indian real estate developers bragged about meeting with Trump post-election and expanding their work with him now that he has the power of the presidency.
* Trump paid $25 million to settle charges that he defrauded students of Trump University.
* News broke that immediately before the election Trump launched eight mysterious companies to build luxury real estate projects in Saudi Arabia.
*Foreign diplomats told The Washington Post that they would deliberately book rooms at Trump's Washington, D.C. hotel in order to curry favor with the president
* Government ethics experts who served under Republican and Democratic presidents have agreed that Trump's potential conflicts of interest might be unconstitutional.
* The US Secret Service might pay millions of dollars to rent two floors in Trump Tower to protect him and his family, with Trump pocketing the proceeds.
* Trump praised his Turkish business partner, who had butted heads with Turkey's government, in a phone call with autocratic Turkish President Erdogan.
Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee, is no diehard Trump fan and once refused to endorse or defend him. 8 After spending untold hours investigating Clinton's non-scandals, he owes it to the American public to investigate naked conflicts of interest emerging in the Trump administration. We need to help Rep. Cummings build the public pressure on Chaffetz to investigate potential conflicts of interest or outright corruption.
The greatest threat from Trump will continue to be persecution and the climate of hate directed at Muslims, the undocumented, people of color, immigrants, and women. It is becoming even clearer that Trump's strategy is to divide the American people and scapegoat these groups while enriching himself and his Wall Street friends.
A true progressive response to the Trump regime will unconditionally resist his bigoted and racist policies while exposing the way he serves the powerful and privileged.
Because the president is not subject to federal conflict-of-interest laws, the House Oversight Committee plays a crucial role in standing up to Trump.9
Progressive champions like Sen. Elizabeth Warren have called for investigation, and with Rep. Elijah Cummings is already showing what determined leadership looks like, we need to stand with him.
ACTION: Stand with Rep. Cummings: Investigate Trump's massive web of potential corruption. Click here to sign the petition
1 Rep. Elijah Cummings, "Cummings Calls on Chaffetz to Launch Inquiry into Trump's So-Called 'Blind Trust'," Nov. 14, 2016.
2 Jason Nesbit, "A Handy List of Donald Trump's Biggest Conflicts of Interest," TIME, Nov. 21, 2016.
3 Matthew Yglesias, "President Trump and the Trump Organization are the biggest conflict of interest in US history," Vox.com, Nov. 14, 2016
4 Cummings, "Cummings Calls on Chaffetz to Launch Inquiry into Trump's So-Called "Blind Trust."
5 Yglesias, "President Trump and the Trump Organization are the biggest conflict of interest in US history."
6 The Editorial Board, "Donald Trump's Tangled Web," The New York Times, Nov. 16, 2016.
7 Nesbit, "A Handy List of Donald Trump's Biggest Conflicts of Interest."
8 Max de Haldevang, "Days after Trump spoke to Argentina's president his stalled Buenos Aires tower project picked up steam," Quartz, Nov. 23, 2016.
9 Paul Blumenthal, "Trump Touted His Turkish Business Partner In A Call With President Erdogan," Huffington Post, Nov. 23, 2016.
10 Pamela Brown et. all, "Secret Service considering renting a floor at Trump Tower to protect future first family," CNN.com, Nov. 25, 2016.
11 Matthew Yglesias, "Top House Oversight Democrat asks for hearings on Trump's conflicts of interest," Vox.com, Nov. 14, 2016.
A Handy List of Donald Trump's
Biggest Conflicts of Interest
Jeff Nesbit / TIME Magazine
(November 21, 2016) -- Last week, I wrote about the many financial conflicts of interest President-elect Donald Trump will face as president. People are right to be concerned that he will not abide by the traditional rules that every president in the modern era before him has chosen to honor.
Presidents are not subject to Congressional oversight of conflicts of interest, and Trump has shown little interest in voluntarily disclosing any potential conflicts related to his global business interests. For clarity, here are five big areas of potential conflicts of interest that will almost certainly expand over time.
1. US Properties
At the top of this list is the Trump International Hotel, a few blocks from the White House. Once the Old Post Office building, Trump's organization renovated it and turned it into a luxury hotel to compete with others in downtown Washington. The most expensive suite could sell for as much as $20,000 a night. A five-night stay in that suite by those seeking an audience with the president-elect in the Oval Office would cost $100,000.
The Washington Post recently reported considerable interest in booking Trump's Washington hotel as a deliberate way for foreign visitors to show their support for the incoming Trump White House. Two legal experts -- Richard Painter, who was former President George W. Bush's chief ethics counsel, and noted constitutional legal expert Lawrence Tribe -- both say that this appears to be an "emolument" (a gift) that a president isn't allowed to accept. The Constitution doesn't allow presidents to receive expensive gifts from foreign agents.
The "emoluments clause" is the only conflict of interest law that applies to the presidency. It is designed to keep foreign interests from essentially buying influence with US government officials, including the president. Trump may tread on this clause literally during the first week of his presidency as foreign agents pay vast sums to stay at his hotel during inauguration week.
Here's the exact language from the "Emoluments Clause" in the Constitution:
"No person holding any (US) office of profit or trust . . . shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present . . . of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state."
The central question will be this: if foreign agents spend $5 million -- or $500 million -- to stay at Trump properties as a way to curry favor with the White House, does this constitute an emolument given to directly benefit the president-elect?
The clause's applicability to a president has never really been tested in court. It might during a Trump presidency if he chooses not to sell his assets, or set up a true blind trust that shields him from knowing if anything valuable is offered to him.
2. Foreign Interests
While American voters largely know Trump from his American real-estate properties and his stint as a reality network television star, his organization has any number of business deals that are connected either directly with foreign governments or individuals with deep ties to those governments. Any one of those business deals is likely to come under intense scrutiny when administration proposals affect governments involved in those business deals.
More than 100 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries. One extraordinary conflict of interest is an effort by eight mysterious Trump companies established on the eve of Trump's campaign to develop luxury real estate projects in Saudi Arabia -- a country that Trump explicitly said he hopes to protect as president.
The Trump organization also has business deals or properties in Scotland, Azerbaijan and Uruguay. He has marketing deals in Turkey, the Philippines, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.
The Bank of China is a lender to at least one of Trump's properties. Representatives of his organization carry the Trump brand to dozens of other countries on a regular basis -- raising the distinct possibility that Trump's business brand will essentially be promoted right alongside the Trump White House and American national interests in many of these places.
The Trump organization, for instance, describes the role of his son, Donald Jr., as business development and acquisitions that range "from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia, the Middle East to South America, (and) mainland China."
It's also clear that Trump may not be shy about mixing and matching official White House duties with those involving foreign business interests. Just last week, Trump met with three Indian business partners at Trump Tower to discuss a luxury apartment complex they're developing together near Mumbai, the New York Times reported.
For this meeting, at least, there was no apparent effort to separate his business dealings from his work as the President-elect, though a spokeswoman for the Trump organization described it as nothing more than a courtesy visit rather than a business meeting.
Those Indian executives, however, have told Indian newspapers that they had been discussing the possibility of expanding their business deals with the Trump organization now that he was the President-elect, the Times reported.
Regardless of whether any sorts of business partnership expansions were discussed, legal experts say that such meetings alone raise conflict of interest questions for Trump because there is at least the appearance that he could be using the White House to advance his own business interests.
Ivanka Trump joined a Trump White House transition team meeting with Japan's leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, last week, which prompted even more questions about how closely aligned Trump's business interests will be with affairs of state.
3. Family Matters
Relatives and family members who are currently making important decisions about what a Trump administration will look like will come under intense media scrutiny -- especially for those who choose to work in the White House or take on official advisory council posts.
Trump's closest advisors have said in recent weeks that they would like to see his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, become a senior White House official, reflecting his clear and obvious role in major decisions the President-elect has made since the election.
Kushner, for instance, has been widely credited with the decision to replace Gov. Chris Christie as the head of the Trump transition efforts. There is, however, a large, potential conflict of interest looming. After former President John F. Kennedy made his brother, Robert, the attorney general, Congress passed an anti-nepotism law.
That 1967 law is still on the books, and there isn't an easy way around it -- even if Kushner chooses not to take a salary as a senior White House official. It bans public officials, especially presidents, from hiring their relatives for jobs in federal agencies and Cabinet posts.
Trump advisors, however, believe the anti-nepotism law doesn't apply to the White House -- a conflict that could be tested early in Trump's presidency if he allows his son-in-law to operate out of the West Wing. "This falls right in the bull's eye of the statute. I think it's illegal," Norm Eisen, who was President Obama's chief ethics counsel, told Politico. Other legal experts, though, feel Kushner can serve as an unpaid advisor in the White House.
Republicans, likewise, don't see any conflicts at all in Trump's family members managing the national government. "For goodness sake, JFK put his brother over at the Justice Department. It's not like these things are new and unprecedented," Rep. Tom Cole said.
And if Trump wants to give Kushner or his daughter, Ivanka Trump, access to intelligence briefings, he could appoint them to White House councils like the intelligence advisory board without any oversight from Congress or intelligence agencies providing classified briefings.
4. Ongoing Legal Disputes and Union Fights
One potential area where conflicts of interest between Trump's business interests and his role as president overseeing the entirety of the national government's activities seem certain to collide are in a series of ongoing legal fights with unions -- a core constituency of the Democratic Party -- as well as in a handful of lawsuits involving his business deals. Trump settled his biggest, most publicized legal fight (a class action lawsuit against Trump University) recently, but more are waiting in the wings.
For instance, a labor dispute with the culinary workers union at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas (where he is a co-owner) could ultimately be settled by the National Labor Relations Board. The president appoints all five members of NLRB. Lawsuits involving employees at other Trump properties are also pending. Union officials have said they'll be watching closely to see whether the president-elect uses his office in an effort to tip the scales in those disputes.
"Will he as president of the United States of America use the power he has to interfere -- given that he has a financial interest in the outcome of these matters?" Bethany Khan, a spokeswoman for the 57,000-member Culinary Workers Union Local 226 of Nevada, told the Times.
5. Lending, Financial Institutions and Economic Policy
Finally, the Trump organization has many financial ties to lenders outside the US -- including Russia and China. Decisions he makes on economic policies that directly affect international financial lending institutions, interest rates and monetary policy will have a direct bearing on the hundreds of millions of dollars his organization owes to financial interests abroad.
Any one of those international lending arrangements is likely to come under media scrutiny when he weighs in on decisions that will directly affect them.
And, in the US, economic and monetary policy discussions at a Trump White House will have a direct impact on federal institutions like Treasury, the Federal Reserve and the Internal Revenue Service -- all of which impact, audit or affect both his domestic and international business interests.
The question of whether Trump is taking his own business interests into White House consideration on financial and economic policy considerations is one that critics and others are almost certain to raise repeatedly during his presidency.
Jeff Nesbit was the communications director to former Vice President Dan Quayle (R-IN) at the White House. He is the author of Poison Tea>
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.