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President Donald Trump's Army secretary nominee is reportedly seeking to swap a stake in his airline, Eastern Air Lines, for a smaller stake in the charter airline Swift, sources familiar with the negotiations told The New York Times. Swift Air reportedly makes up to $18 million a year from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deporting illegal immigrants.
The Army secretary nominee, Vincent Viola, is a billionaire Wall Street trader, and his reason for trying to sell Eastern Air Lines is not clear. The airline industry is heavily regulated by the federal government, though, so the decision might be an attempt to detangle from any potential conflicts of interest.
Nevertheless, Phoenix-based Swift Air has millions of dollars in government subcontracts, people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to the Times said. "As a government official, [Viola] would be in a position to push the policy in a way that benefits him," said Charles Tiefer, a law professor at the University of Baltimore. "As an ethical matter, that would be inappropriate. And he should not put himself in a position where he could push a controversial policy in a direction that profits him."
Separately, Viola has placed his interest in the Florida Panthers hockey team into a trust although it isn't apparent if there would somehow be a conflict of interest by owning the team, or if he simply wants to unburden himself.
"Mr. Viola shared all of his business dealings with the transition and is actively pursuing full compliance with all requirements necessary for his confirmation," said David White, President Trump's transition spokesman.