Trump’s businesses: An unprecedented conflict of interest
Donald Trump ran, and won, on a promise to “drain the swamp” of corruption and self-dealing in government, said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. But it’s already starting to look as if his real plan is to “deepen the muck and make his fabulously wealthy family even wealthier.” The president-elect owns or has stakes in at least 500 companies, 111 of which do business overseas. The sprawl extends across Asia, South America, and the Middle East, and includes such countries as Saudi Arabia, China, India, and Turkey; his businesses also owe hundreds of millions of dollars to banks in China and Germany, and perhaps Russia. That’s a massive and unprecedented conflict of interest. “When dealing with countries where he does business, will Trump put his own financial interests aside and do what’s best for the U.S.?” Trump’s supposed solution is to let his adult children run his company while he retains ownership, said Pat Garofalo in USNews.com. That’s no “blind trust.” In fact, it’s “a joke.” Since the election, Trump has let Eric, Donald Jr., and Ivanka Trump serve on his transition team; met with business partners from Pune, India, where he is developing a pair of towers; and invited Ivanka to sit in on a meeting with the Japanese prime minister. Clearly, Trump intends to turn the presidency into an arm of his family business. “The law’s totally on my side,” Trump said this week. “The president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
What this means, said Paul Waldman in WashingtonPost.com, is that it will now be ridiculously easy to bribe the U.S. president. Any foreign dictator wanting a favor from Trump—say, Vladimir Putin—can simply arrange for a local developer to pay Trump hundreds of millions of dollars to license his name, or hire the Trump Organization as “consultants,” or sell the company land at a big discount. “Untold sums” could flow into Trump’s pockets— and since he’ll never release his tax returns, no one will know. The influence buying has already begun, said Jonathan O’Connell, also in WashingtonPost.com. Since the election, the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., has been hustling for business from diplomats and foreign dignitaries, who are eager to give Trump their money. “‘I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’” explained one Asian diplomat.
Trump is right about one thing—none of this is illegal, said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com. Presidents are exempt from the conflict-of-interest statutes that apply to most elected officials. Some experts say that Trump risks violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bars officeholders from accepting gifts “from any king, prince, or foreign state.” But the law has rarely been enforced, and there’s “no binding precedent for its interpretation.” Unless Congress or the courts step in, said Josh Voorhees in Slate.com, the only hope is that Trump voluntarily follows the accepted “norms” of ethical behavior— “and it’s no secret how he feels about those.”
Trump will give Democrats a big fat target if he doesn’t address this problem, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. To avoid serious “political damage,” he has to “liquidate his stake” in the Trump Organization and put the proceeds in a “true blind trust” run by an independent manager. The sale “would be painful and perhaps costly” for Trump. But millions of Americans have put their trust in him to improve their lives, not treat the presidency as a brief hiatus from his business. If he’s serious about cleaning up Washington’s culture of self-dealing, “he’s going to have to make a sacrifice and lead by example.”
Good week for:
Checking out, after entrepreneurs opened the first DivorceHotel in upstate New York, allowing guests to check in married and check out single, all in one weekend. “It doesn’t need to be the worst experience of your entire life,” said a divorce mediator.
Alone time, after an international study found that highly intelligent people tend to be happier when they spend more time alone, working on their goals and interests, and less time socializing with other people.
Vengeance, after Donald Trump supporters started an online campaign urging like-minded coffee drinkers to use the name of the president-elect when ordering at Starbucks. The goal is to force the young, presumably liberal baristas to call out “Trump” every time an order is ready.
Bad week for:
Mailing weed, after a report from the U.S. Post Office Inspector General revealed that postal employees are stealing most of the marijuana that is found while being illegally shipped through the mail. After suspicious packages are quarantined, they’re stored in unsupervised and unlocked areas.
Media literacy, after a Stanford University study found that 82 percent of middle schoolers couldn’t distinguish a real news story on a website from a “sponsored content” post by a business.
Getting a callback, after a Japanese man admitted to stealing the wallet of a company president during his job interview. “I wanted to work for that company,” said Shogo Takeda, 24, after confessing to the crime. “But since I haven’t got a job, I needed money.”