In a letter to Eugene’s Register-Guard, self-identified “deplorable” further proved that Donald Trump (DT) supporters live in a fantasy land when she concluded by stating that “we can all agree that President-elect Trump is not in it for the money.” And she was being serious. A run-down of DT’s conflicts of interest show how wrong she is.
DT’s extensive global business dealings brings the total to 150 companies in at least 25 countries. The true extent is not known because of DT’s refusal to release his tax information. Richard Painter, Chief Ethics Counsel for George W. Bush, said:
“If we’ve got to talk to a foreign government about their behavior, or negotiate a treaty, or some country asks us to send our troops in to defend someone else, we’ve got to make a decision. And the question becomes: Are we going in out of our national interest, or because there’s a Trump casino around?”
Philippines: President Rodrigo Duterte has named Jose E.B. Antonio, DT’s partner in a $150 million tower in Manila, a special envoy to the U.S. Antonio met with DT’s children for a private meeting after the election, and his son, Robbie Antonio, said that his father and the Trumps plan other Trump-branded resorts in the country. Duterte wants U.S. troops out of his country; he has killed thousands of suspected criminals without trial.
South Korea: As partner in a South Korean company involved in nuclear energy, DT wants the country to take care of its own military defense rather than counting on the U.S.—including the development of nuclear weapons.
Brazil: The beachfront Trump Hotel Rio de Janeiro—financially branded but not owned by DT—is part of an investigation regarding illicit commissions and bribes resulted in favoritism by two pension funds invested in the project.
Argentina: DT reportedly asked President Mauricio Macri to approve long-delayed permits for the Buenos Aires Trump high rise. Although DT denied doing this, permits were granted the next day.
India: Builders on DT’s real estate ventures are tied to the country’s most important political party. With more projects underway than in any other location outside the U.S., DT can obtain special government favors, including reductions in loans from state-owned banks, as low as 8 percent from the typical 15 percent. A week after he was elected, DT and his children met with their Indian business partners who said that they discussed the expansion of their Trump dealings because he is the president-elect. An official said that meeting with the U.S. president’s son can be the same as a meeting with the president. One DT project is under investigation for fraudulent permits. Black money—money on which taxes have not been paid—is commonly invested in real estate, and special political favors leads to windfall profits. Bribes are so common that bureaucrats have rate sheets showing how much to each official.
[DT as member of “Hindu Sena,” or Hindu Army, a local organization. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)]
Ireland: DT wants a flood-prevention sea wall on the coast that would endanger an endangered snail’s habitat and sand dunes near the course, both protected by European Union rules.
Britain: DT has spoken with British politicians in opposition to wind farms that he believes will mar the view from his golf course in Scotland.
Turkey: Officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a religiously conservative Muslim, had demanded that DT’s name be removed from Trump Towers in Istanbul after he called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. DT suggested that Erdogan can crack down harshly on dissidents after the recent, failed coup, and Erdogan’s calls for action against Trump Towers have stopped. In his offshore manufacturing, DT maintains his partnership in a company making luxury furniture and sold under the Trump Home Collection. DT has said that he has “a little conflict of interest [in Turkey].”
Saudi Arabia: During his campaign, DT started eight hotel projects in this oil-rich Arab kingdom that he said he “would want to protect.” Citing all the money that people from Saudi Arabia give him, DT said, “Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
Russia: DT made millions with the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. In 2008, DT, Jr., said that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” adding that “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
U.S.: DT is urging diplomats to stay at his new Washington, D.C. hotel when they are in town for official business. He owns a government lease for the hotel although the lease states that it cannot be held by a government official. His on-going labor disputes in Nevada may be solved by his appointments of all five members of the National Labor Relations Board. DT also owns stock in the company building the pipeline where protesters are trying to protect water and Native American sacred land in the Dakotas.
Other Global Issues: DT has a failed project in Toronto which was funded by Chinese investors and a dispute with Deutsche Bank, also owing them possibly billions of dollars. The bank is negotiating with the U.S. after lying to investors about its involvement in subprime mortgages during the housing crisis and ensuing global recession. The DOJ opened with $14 billion, but the deal could be sweetened in exchange for lessening DT’s loans, especially because the bank is being investigated for shady equity trades benefiting Russian clients.
Ivanka Trump plans to make money off DT’s election. After the family appeared on 60 Minutes, her business urged reporters to write about the $10,800 gold bangle bracelet she wore during the interview. She has also participated in conversations with at least three world leaders: Turkey, Argentina and Japan. DT was given a gold driver worth $4,000 at the meeting with Japanese officials.
Another issue is identifying responsibility for protecting Trump properties, possibly against terrorism, around the world. David J. Kramer, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor during the George W. Bush administration, said DT’s financial situation could stop the government from using the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, that attempts to prevent contractors from paying bribes to secure government work abroad.
Even without overt DT action, officials in foreign countries may feel pressured to support his businesses by moving forward building permits or pushing more business to DT’s hotels or golf courses. DT’s diplomats may also not wish to frustrate his business partners or political allies.
Republicans were virulently opposed to Hillary Clinton’s potential involvement in the Clinton Foundation, and at least one representative, Justin Amash from Michigan, is now calling on DT to be transparent. Amash tweeted, “If you have contracts w/foreign govts, it’s certainly a big deal, too. #DrainTheSwamp.” As DT rearranges the alligators in the deepening swamp, almost no Republicans are mentioning the murky morass. Instead they plan to investigate Hillary Clinton’s emails.
DT has already pointed out that there is no law against his conflict of interest. At this time, he is ignoring the Emoluments Clause (Article 1, Section 9) in the U.S. Constitution, “emolument” meaning compensation for labor or services. The clause states that “no person holding any office of profit or trust” shall “accept of any present, emolument, office or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state” unless Congress consents. This provision could go as far as preventing DT from renting space in his New York tower to the Bank of China or hosting foreign diplomats in one of his hotels.
When President Obama took office, David J. Barron, a Justice Department official who is now a federal appeals court judge in Boston, declared that the clause “surely” applies to the president and money can be barred if it comes from a foreign state. Barron added, “Corporations owned or controlled by a foreign government are presumptively foreign states under the Emoluments Clause.”
The Supreme Court has no rulings about this clause because no previous president has refused to give up his businesses when taking over the office. The question is who would have standing to challenge the President of the United States. Violations may require impeachment and not a lawsuit, something that a GOP-controlled House of Representatives is unlikely to do. Yet Virginia Gov. Edmund Jennings Randolph stated during a Constitutional debate in June 1788 that a violation of the provision by the President would be grounds for impeachment.
Legal scholars are calling on Electoral Voters to not make DT the next president unless he follows earlier presidents in selling his companies and putting the proceeds in a blind trust. Harvard Law Professor Larry Tribe, a preeminent constitutional scholar, said, “[T]o vote for Trump in the absence of such complete divestment… would represent an abdication of the solemn duties of the 538 Electors.” Painter and Norman Eisen, President Obama’s Chief Ethics Counsel, joined Tribe in this opinion. DT could agree to have his businesses audited and any payment from a foreign government turned over to the United States, Painter suggested, but Tribe does not think this action would actually cure the Constitutional violation. DT won’t do this anyway.
If DT makes no changes before he takes the Oath of Office, he would immediately violate his promise not to be “indebted to, or otherwise the recipient of financial remuneration from, any foreign power or entity answerable to such a power.” Taking the oath would qualify him for one of the “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” that would require him to be “removed from Office.” The only alternative is for Congress to “endorse Trump’s exploitation of public office for private gain and authorize his emoluments as the Constitution allows,” according to Eisen.
Eisen summarized the situation perfectly: Swearing in DT without his selling his properties would force the U.S. into a “wholesale oligarchic kleptocracy of a kind that we have never seen before in our history.” Without taking action, the GOP can find itself in the midst of a constitutional crisis.