“Ethics Lawyers Would Strongly Disagree”: Trump’s “Nearly Nixonian” Answer on Business Conflicts to NYT Doesn’t Cut It
Now we know why Reince Priebus wanted Donald Trump to cancel his NYT meeting yesterday. Trump was entirely unprepared to answer any questions, particularly about the conflicts of interest between the presidency and Trump’s businesses. The only answer Trump had was, well, ‘almost Nixonian,’ according to CNN’s David Chalian. NBC’s Katy Tur explained thoroughly why Trump’s answers were so problematic, particularly when it comes to diplomatic relationships with countries like Turkey. And Bloomberg’s John Heilemann seemed plainly offended at Trump’s refusal to address his conflicts of interest seriously. Watch below.
On MSNBC yesterday, Katy Tur made clear that Trump is breaking yugely with precedent in refusing to separate his businesses from the presidency: “We are going to see how he deals with his business going forward, but we have indications so far in the last two weeks where Donald Trump has not separated himself from his business on multiple different occasions. […] It is normal for a president who might have a conflict of interest issue to do everything they can to do away with the questions. […] Usually there is every step that they can take is taken in order for a president to diminish the charges. Donald Trump broke a lot of rules during the campaign, said a lot of things that would have sunk other candidate, didn’t release his taxes and did things his own way. And now I think we are getting the indication that he is going to continue doing things his own way while he is president.”
Tur continues: “He said, ‘In theory I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly.’ […] Ethics lawyers in Washington would strongly disagree with this. Because not only does it create the perception that Donald Trump might be acting in his own self-interest instead of the public’s interest, but it will allow foreign governments to try to use Donald Trump’s properties, his businesses against him when they are trying to negotiate or manipulate the United States into a more promising trade deal or promising diplomatic relations on their front going forward. Talk about Turkey. That’s somewhere where we have very sensitive relations. We are partnering with them in the fight against ISIS. Donald Trump owns a hotel in Turkey, or at least he has a branded name on a hotel in Turkey. If Turkey were to push back on that property in some way, who know what effect that might have to our foreign policy overseas…”
Bloomberg’s John Heilemann: “The way he answered questions on it today suggested it will be a huge problem… he is not taking seriously enough these questions about his business, the conflicts of interest inherent there, the unconstitutionality of things that he might want to do, the role of his kids in the business, all of it. He brushed them away…”
CNN’s David Chalian: “I thought this was a stunning line… He said, ‘The law is totally on my side on this’ […] and he says, ‘The president can’t have conflict of interest.’ This language is nearly Nixonian.”
Once you grasp the geographical spread of Trump’s interests, it is hard to see how the potential conflicts of interest could ever be resolved. Take the Middle East, a region of the world that every modern American President has had to focus on. According to the Post, in addition to the Trump-branded real-estate development in Turkey, Trump has business ties to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, two oil-rich countries that have funded radical Islamic movements. And, just last year, Trump registered eight companies named after Jeddah, the second-largest city in Saudi Arabia.
Laws against bribery most certainly apply to the president. Another thing that does is the emoluments clause of the Constitution. It states that no government official shall receive favorable payment from a foreign government, foreign government-owned company or foreign official without the consent of Congress. Trump owes millions in debt to the Bank of China, which is owned by the government of China.
Impeachment seems unlikely while Republicans control Congress. But questions about Trump’s business entanglements, especially overseas, are dominating press coverage of his transition, and nothing he said on Tuesdayseemed likely to abate those concerns…
He acknowledged a New York Times report that he encouraged British politician Nigel Farage and his entourage to prevent a wind farm from obstructing the view from Trump’s Scottish golf course. “I might have brought it up,” he said. Norm Eisen, a former ethics lawyer for President Barack Obama, said Trump’s raising the wind farm could have amounted to bribery if he offered any official action in return.