Foreign Policy Blogs

Trump Organization First, America Second

Trump’s first press conference, complete with props.

Few moments in the Trump Presidency have proven to be more poignant than his first press conference as President-elect—the thing was that he was not alone during his address to the media. Joined by Trump were six manila folders stacked heavy with documents and agreements detailing his actions on handing his business empire to sons Don Jr. and Eric.

No reference was made to the files themselves during the press conference, neither were they picked up and displayed to the media. The only mention of the documents was at the conclusion the conference in the lobby of Trump Tower. “These papers are just some of the many documents that I’ve signed turning over complete and total control to my sons”, Trump boasted.

At the end of the news conference, reporters were blocked from looking at the papers, while photos emerged of the folders without labels, and in some cases seemingly blank pages, causing a stir on social media.

The pompous display of blank pages and props setting the scene for Trump’s treatment of the press during his presidency could be a point of contention for the future. A more pertinent issue is the extent to which Trump has taken to distance himself from business affairs—are they sufficient measures? Also, what impact can external entities have, namely powerful and influential countries, if Trump and his family are still associated with the Trump Organization?

The first formal announcement of Trump’s sons taking control of business affairs was in January, where it was also made public that he would donate all money spent by foreign governments on accounts accrued at his hotels to the US Treasury.

Speculation on the issue began to surface in March, with Eric Trump declaring, “its something that our integral controlling teams take seriously.” Phil Ruffin, 50-50 joint venture owner of Trump International Hotel Las Vegas with Donald, contradicted the call from Eric Trump, stating “I don’t know anything about that.” Its also been identified the earliest payments will be made to the Treasury will be 2018.

The issue at hand is the potential for other countries to influence government decisions by contributing to the bottom line of the Trump Organisation. Extra caution must be taken when Eric Trump is now the co-chief of his father’s business, considering the New York Attorney General is currently investigating the actions of the now defunct Eric Trump foundation, using the foundation to siphon more than $1.2 billion of charitable donations to the Trump Organization.

Several groups have also identified the fact Trump’s lack of definitive action to distance himself from his business affairs could be deemed unconstitutional.

Under Article I, Section 9 of the constitution states, “No person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.” And while Trump has demonstrated a willingness to curb any conflict of interest by moving his business interests into a trust managed by his songs, the president retained actual ownership of the companies, meaning he still makes money from them.

Sheri Dillon, a tax attorney advising Trump on ethics issues argued the Emoluments Clause does not apply to hotel stays. Since the first day Trump took to office, several groups have taken objection to this, and a number of lawsuits against the president have emerged in the last six months.

Firstly, a liberal watchdog organization named Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics filed a lawsuit in January. Then it was two attorneys general for the District to Columbia and Maryland who took legal action. And as recent as mid-June, a group of almost 200 Democrat senators and representatives decided to follow suit, pardon the pun.

These actions all had one thing in common—scrutinizing Trump´s violation of the emoluments clause, and the stipulation that only Congress can approve the receipt of foreign payments, which Trump has not received. The fear that was with January´s efforts was whether they were entitled to litigate at all, along with the lack of precedence. With increased action however, unprecedented progress could be on the cards in the future.

There is strong evidence some countries are already testing the integrity of the U.S. head of state as he continues to remain a stakeholder of his business affairs. Instances from the Middle East and Asia exemplify this. One brief example—Kuwait´s Washington-based Ambassador switching a booking made in previous years at the Four Seasons to the Trump hotel in D.C., shows suspect actions.

Another Gulf state an arguably more significant diplomatic relationship with Washington is Saudi Arabia, with actions both during and after the presidential campaign coming under scrutiny. Shortly after launching his bid in August 2015, Trump registered eight companies tied to hotel interests. Lets not forget, Hillary Clinton was lambasted for the Clinton Foundation accepting donations from this very country.

More recent action held a more sinister motive. Foreign disclosure filings were released in June, showing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia paid Trump International Hotel nearly $270,000 through its D.C.-based lobbying firm Qorvis MSLGroup over the last several months. The payments were made for hotel rooms and catering services for dozens of U.S. veterans recruited by the group as an aim to coerce lawmakers to water down Justice Against Support of Terrorism Act, or JASTA. This indirectly implicates the Saudis and their involvement with 9/11, providing the U.S. President an unethical source of income simultaneously.

Speculation over actions in East Asia has also taken place, with revelations of further questionable behavior. It has been discovered the Chinese government has granted preliminary approval of nine Donald Trump trademarks that were previously denied, fueling allegations Beijing might be giving the president´s family business special treatment. One columnist pointed to a series of tweets to show further evidence of Trump´s rebuffing his election promises of putting “America First” in trade deals. One tweet dismissed one of his earlier calls, “why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korea problem?”

This is the same nation Trump threatened in June 2016 with, “if China does not stop its illegal activities, including its theft of American trade secrets, I will use every lawful — this is very easy. This is so easy. I love saying this. I will use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes.” If one makes such strong remarks, out of principle, transactions such as these should not take place. Not for #POTUS45.

These are only a few examples of the many dubious business actions that have taken place between the Trump Organization and outside entities—here is a more extensive list. One look at the list is quite scary, really.

If such unethical actions take place in the future, compelling potential further remains for foreign governments to influence decisions in Washington. Blind trusts have been considered the norm for the president´s predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, yet Trump decided against such action, as it would be too complicated to accomplish. And one could argue, the longer it remains like this; the weight of lawsuits against the US Head of State will continue to get heavier.

After all, the difference between Trump and his predecessor when respecting the Emoluments clause of the Constitution could not be starker. While Obama’s legal team sought the advice of attorney general on whether he could receive Nobel Peace Prize legitimately in 2009, it seems Trump has other ideas on how to treat the U.S. Constitution, with numerous incidents pointing to this.

 

Author

Fred Johnston
Fred Johnston

With previous studies in politics and international relations, Fred is a social commentator who covers the social injustices carried out by those who have misplaced their moral compass – usually politicians and big business.
A Central Australian who works as a schoolteacher in Bogota, Colombia by day and aspiring social commentator by night, Fred´s work has been featured in a number of blogs including Centrethought, Young Diplomats Society and the Big Smoke.
He hopes his efforts to address the ails of society will lead to a career in diplomacy or social commentary.

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