When in doubt, follow the money. Politicians lie, tweets enrage and confuse, but money is to people what facts are to news. To address his many conflicts of interest President Trump promised to put his businesses in a trust and distance himself from all business decisions. Multiple ethics experts criticized the trust in January when it was first introduced.
Apparently the President can withdraw money from his trust whenever the mood strikes him, which taints every decision he makes with the potential for personal profit. President Trump’s name and image continue to adorn buildings all over the globe and provide tempting targets for those who wish to strike against America. By retaining ownership of his businesses and the subsequent conflicts of interests, President Trump is unable to act without raising questions concerning his motivations. Can we trust Trump to put America first?
Here are the 7 worst violations Trump has failed to proactively address in no particular order:
Mar-a-Lago has been where President Trump has spent his winters for years, and moving into the White House has altered the president’s schedule. Mar-a-Lago may be the most significant ethics violation of this administration mostly because of the sheer amount of time President Trump spends there and the media attention it receives because of this.
The high profile and incessant mentions of the President’s private business which accompany his public business as President mean an endless cycle of conflicts. In trying to inform the people about where the president spends his time sections of the U.S. government, most notably the U.S. State Department, have been practically advertising for Mar-a-Lago and driving business into the President’s checkbook.
Mar-a-Lago has been the site of official visits by foreign heads of state, unsecure national security conversations, and club members taking selfies with the president. The President’s weekly visits to his estate significantly impacted the local community for the worse and his business for the better. Doubling Mar-a-Lago’s membership fee and a helipad are only the beginning of the perks received. Mar-a-Lago has been payed for the use of its facilities including $35,000 in golf cart rental fees from the Secret Service. Beyond direct business, David Fahrenthold showed definitively how the President’s presence in Mar-a-Lago has benefited those whom hold events there and is drawing more business to the private club.
President Trump grew up in a family corporation and runs the Trump Organization the same way by leaning heavily on his children. Out of all his children, Ivanka Trump is the one who has succeeded most in mimicking her father’s corporate management style. President Trump’s ascension into the national political spotlight has brought his daughter Ivanka along for the ride, but the intersection of family, politics, and business has created extensive ethics issues.
One example happened earlier this year: Ms. Trump runs a clothing and accessory brand sold at several department stores and one of these stores declined to continue to carry her brand back in February.
The following morning White House Advisor and spokeswoman, Kellyanne Conway, went on national television and said as followup:
“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you. I hate shopping but I’m going to go get some for myself today. I’m going to give it a free commercial here, go buy it today.”
The Washington Post reports that Ms. Trump’s sales “skyrocketed in early February,” when they jumped 219% the day Ms. Conway gave her speech.
Unfortunately for Ms. Trump this incident was not the end of of her time in the political spotlight. In early April Ms. Trump took a position in her father’s administration as an Assistant to the President. To address the issues of nepotism and financial conflicts, Ms. Trump would forgo her modest government salary and no longer manage her company. Ms. Trump, however, has not given up her stake in the company, and these financial entanglements continue to affect her.
Ms. Trump published a book in early May, which has raised questions concerning if she is abusing her government position. While she agreed to not promote the book on TV or with a book tour, Ms. Trump has continued to promote the book on social media. Given that Ms. Trump’s celebrity status makes separating her personal identity from her professional identity almost impossible, she will continue to violate government ethics codes merely as a systematic outcome of the way her business and personal life are structured.
Trump Towers Turkey
Trump Admits to Steve Bannon That He Has a Conflict of Interest
“I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers — two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two.” — President Donald Trump, December 2016
If the President actually admitting he has a conflict of interest is not enough to raise red flags, the specifics do not get any better. President Erdogan threatened to rip Trump’s name off of his towers after then-candidate Trump made particularly disparaging remarks against Muslims. Since this threat, President Trump has taken a conciliatory tone with Turkey and even called Erdogan to congratulate him on consolidating power. An odd stance given the near universal condemnation of Erdogan’s purges expressed by the rest of the Western world.
Recently President Trump bestowed upon President Erdogan the honor of a visit to the White House for a summit and Erdogan brought his signature thuggish style with him, his bodyguards assaulting American citizen’s who dared to protest against him.
The Trump family businesses make a large part of their money off of licensing deals. Basically they sell their celebrity and name to another company to use on their products. If the Trump name is not trademarked in a country, anyone can put it on products there, cutting the Trump family out of profits they could be receiving. The acquisition of international trademarks to protect their brand has always been an essential component of the Trump family’s foreign business.
With Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency it appears the acquisition of such trademarks has been expedited. Trump had struggled for years to protect his name when being used for construction projects, and approval was finally granted by the Chinese government in February soon after the President retreated from his aggressive stance on China’s Taiwan policy. The President’s company (words I hope every time to never have to type again) has 39 recently approved trademarks in China awaiting final vetting, so business has been good lately. Donald is not the only Trump having trademark success in China, his daughter Ivanka also received a recent boost. Ms. Trump received approval for several patents literally as she sat at Mar-a-Lago in discussions with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Commenting on the family trademarks, Senator Cardin (D-MD) noted that
“officials in Beijing have come to appreciate the potential return on investments for China in having a positive, personal business relationship with the president of the United States, who has not taken appropriate and transparent steps to completely sever his relationship from the corporation that bears his name.”
Not content to miss out while the rest of the family makes money, the other Ms. Trump has been hard at work on her brand as well. In a recent lawsuit against the Daily Mail, Ms. Trump’s lawyers argued that
“Plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person, as well as a former professional model and brand spokesperson, and successful businesswoman, to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which Plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world,” read the filing. “These product categories would have included, among other things, apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance.”
It’s probably obvious, but just in case this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” they are talking about is her role as First Lady of The United States of America.
Our President loves golf. He always has, and given that his schedule has remained consistent since taking office, it seems fair to extrapolate that he always will. As of week 16, President Trump has taken 21 trips to his golf courses. President Trump’s golf is an ethical conflict in that it provides exposure to his businesses but it also presents a time conflict. The perception that the President shirks his duties to play games has grown so pronounced that the Press Secretary has felt the need to address it multiple times, usually with some variation of:
“Just because you go somewhere doesn’t necessarily mean you did it [played golf]. So, on a couple of occasions, he’s actually conducted meetings there, he’s actually had phone calls. So, just because he heads there, it doesn’t mean that that’s what’s happening.”
The President is allegedly scheduling meetings during his visits to the golf courses, so he does not get to spend all his time on the links. A shame really since back before becoming president, Trump regularly shot in the mid to low 60’s close to amateur pro. There is a line between recharging from the demands of the office and dereliction of duty, as President Trump well knows in his criticism of President Obama’s relaxation habits.
Trump International Hotel, Washington DC
The original conflict, this hotel in DC continues to haunt the President. Two main concerns surround the hotel in DC, that President Trump is in violation of his lease and that the hotel is a way for lobbyists, both foreign and domestic, to funnel money to and curry favor with the current administration. Specific language in the lease of the Trump International Hotel prohibits elected officials from holding or profiting from the lease. The second concern over pay-to-play politics deals with the two emoluments clauses from the Constitution and is especially concerned with how the Trump hotel has become a gathering place for lobbyists and Trump associates from the administration and campaign. Whether sharing a scotch, residing there, or attending one of the numerous political events held at the hotel, President Trump’s hotel has become “the new political capital of Washington.”
Mr. Trump may have skirted the law as a private businessman, but the rules are different for holders of public office as critics of the Clinton Foundation well know. “Government business shall be conducted in a manner above reproach . . . to avoid . . . even the appearance of a conflict of interest.” Besides, it’s just business and Mr. Trump should have no problem letting the Post Office go as he previously stated talking in his New York Times interview expressly about this hotel.
“I don’t care. Because it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters to me is running our country.”
Editor’s Note: Notably missing from this discussion are any mentions of #TrumpRussia. The severity and extensiveness of the charges leveled against the President and his campaign staff are unprecedented in scope. Rantt has extensive coverage of the issue, but mention of it here would place the other conflicts is a lesser position than there severity deserves merely by comparison. Have a conflict you think should make the cut? Please share it with us in the comments below.