November 24, 2016

"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. It’s not just that Trump won’t be seen as an honest broker in the Middle East. He wouldn’t be seen as broker of any kind but as a principal and business partner of some of the region’s repressive governments and their cronies. Even if, for the duration of his Presidency, Trump were to put his businesses into a properly independent trust, run by business executives not connected to him, the Trump-owned and Trump-branded companies would still be generating income for the President and his family. He and his advisers would know that. The governments of the countries where the companies are located would know that. And so would the rest of us."

Writes John Cassidy.

72 comments:

The Vault Dweller said...

This is a very reasonable criticism. As long as Trump has ownership of these properties, he is susceptible to extortion. If he has property in another country, especially one that doesn't have a robust history of the rule of law or property rights. The other country could bribe him to not act in such a way and dangle the well-being of his property on the other end for his reason why he should agree to the country's demands.

I wonder why there has been so little in the press about his until now? Oh yes, I forgot, talking about something like this would indicate a possible weakness on how he CAN'T act forcefully if necessary. And the narrative the media was trying to push was that everyone had to be scared of him because he was an agent of action. He was the embodiment of various abstract bad concepts like racism, sexism, bigotry, and war. If he was this evil agent of chaos, how could there really be a credible worry that the real danger is that he might not be able to act when necessary?

That being said, I'm still not terribly worried. He knew beforehand, and has since experienced significant downturns in his businesses because of his running for President. If preserving his properties was so important to him, he would not have run the type of campaign he did, nor probably run at all.

tim maguire said...

If only he were secretive about his conflicts, like real politicians, then we wouldn't have to worry so much about them.

Perhaps presidents should be required to liquidate, but even that wouldn't change much as the former Trump properties would still carry the Trump name, and he's in it for the glory at least as much as the money. He'd still want to see the Trump name thrive. If only we had an institution, outside the government, that could be trusted to shine a light on politicians' darker activities and bring transparency to those areas of public interest that regulation can't reach. That would be nice.

Gahrie said...

It’s not just that Trump won’t be seen as an honest broker in the Middle East. He wouldn’t be seen as broker of any kind but as a principal and business partner of some of the region’s repressive governments and their cronies.

Stipulate that this is true for the sake of argument. In the Middle east, this will be an advantage, not a disadvantage. It is the way things are done in their culture, and they will actually be more comfortable dealing with Trump.

Gahrie said...

And if the Left does make a big stink...he should just create the Trump Foundation, and transfer all of the overseas assets to it and the problems will be magically solved.....

Right?

William said...

How do you divest yourself of ten billion dollars in real estate interests in two months time?......The law says that he doesn't have to. He didn't have to release his tax returns either so there's that precedent.

MayBee said...

Yeah, this is a problem. Lifelong politicians have ways of kind of hiding their money- or get money after they've served.
Someone should have thought of a law sometime before this.....hmmmm. I wonder why they didn't

Dan said...

I have a solution. In addition to letting his kids and execs run the Trump business, he should legally change his name during his presidency. I suggest Donald J Clinton... I understand the press has, shall we say, a blind trust in the Clinton brand.

Owen said...

I worry less about him being protective of his overseas business interests, than I do about his inability to protect them. Anything with "Trump" on it will be a prime target for his, and our, enemies. How do you hide that without destroying the brand?

David said...

Interesting that people are just starting to focus on this after the election. Perhaps it was assumed that Trump would just put everything in a "blind trust" like others have supposedly done. Certainly Trump himself made that careless assumption in his own early statement. Funny he was called a racist and a liar on everything else but not that.

Trump's business interests are inseparable from the man himself. That would be true if he transferred everything to a trust or his kids or even the Clinton Foundation. It's a branded business and the Trump brand is their strongest asset. To even consider a trust he would have to liquidate everything. You can't liquidate a complex real estate portfolio on a artificial (noneconomic) deadline without risking economic suicide. He should not be required to commit economic suicide.

Many of his "properties" are actually owned by others who license the brand. Like Holiday Inn (say). He probably can't break those contracts without being successfully sued.

The universal assumption is that his properties will benefit from his presidency. In some cases this is likely true. In others it definitely is not. Trump properties are now Class A terrorist targets. They are also vulnerable to foreign governments or individuals placing pressure on him where they have leverage.

Trump was elected without anyone (Trump included) thinking much about this. They are going to think and talk about it now, and it's going to be a problem for Trump. Not an insurmountable problem but a hindrance. It really can't be avoided. It comes with the territory with Trump.

Had Clinton been elected their foundation would have presented similar issues. They would have papered them over and been given a pass by the media. Trump will simply be defiant and the media will be after him.

Clyde said...

"The business of America is business."
-- President Calvin Coolidge

So we've elected a businessman with far-flung interests around the world. And no, he's not going to be able to completely divest himself of them. Some may see possible "conflicts of interest" between President Trump's business holdings and American policy. But in the end, our nation's interest lies in helping to create a world where things are (mostly) peaceful and profitable, and such things would be good for Trump's businesses as well. I say (mostly) because conflict is part of human nature, and not all conflicts can be solved peacefully, or even solved at all. But I think that President Trump will try to find areas of common interest with both our friends and our adversaries. If we'd elected an arms merchant, I'd be more worried.

Ann Althouse said...

"I wonder why there has been so little in the press about his until now?"

Because it would have focused people on the details of the Clinton Foundation and we'd have ended up talking about which conflicts are worse.

Trump built a company for the sake of private commercial success. The Clintons traded on the presidency and seemed to be making deals for influence.

So we couldn't talk about this during the campaign. I would have hurt Hillary, not Trump.

MikeR said...

"Had Clinton been elected their foundation would have presented similar issues. They would have papered them over and been given a pass by the media."
Uh, yeah - Clintons' foundation presented similar issues for the last decade or so.
"Trump will simply be defiant and the media will be after him." A good thing.

Ann Althouse said...

Legally, he doesn't have to divest himself at all. But politically, he might be motivated at least to sign it all over to his children.

But what are the politics? This wasn't brought up as a big issue in the campaign, but these were open facts staring us in the face. It wasn't used against him, so how bad can it look now? It seems that his opponents are trying to weaken him, so it's hard for his supporters to see a problem. I think it's some kind of a problem, but I think he's got a good argument that: 1. It's legal, and 2. He was elected with these facts known, so the election means that the people accepted him as he is, and there is therefore no significant political problem.

sane_voter said...

I do not see a problem at this point with his existing portfolio and any under active development. But I think he should freeze any new development lest it is perceived as a quid pro quo with the local/national governments.

Sebastian said...

"He wouldn’t be seen as broker of any kind but as a principal and business partner of some of the region’s repressive governments and their cronies." Appointing Jared Kushner as his Middle East envoy should take care of that.

"1. It's legal, and 2. He was elected with these facts known, so the election means that the people accepted him as he is, and there is therefore no significant political problem." Won't prevent Dems from trying to make it one. But "conflict" is unavoidable since he is mainly in the name-licensing business. Which is likely to get hurt rather than helped by his presidency, so the spirit of conflict of interest laws is likely to be honored in any case.

rhhardin said...

Just go with Coleridge's observarion.

A conflict of interest is the pulley on which good character is hoist into public view.

Coleridge wrote op-eds for a decade around 1800. Trump might fit it.

mccullough said...

The only plausible thing he could do is sell his stock in the Trump Organization to his kids, who will have to get a $3 billion loan to buy it from him, which is going to take awhile. But then people would still complain that his decisions would benefit his kids who now own the company.





khesanh0802 said...

"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." Not only does Cassidy begrudgingly accept this, but the WSJ has done the same. Holman Jenkins has a piece this week in which he admits that Trump can not possibly separate his business interests from himself because his name IS the business. He really can only do what Washington, Jefferson and others of the Founders did - he can pass active management of the business to someone else while he attends to the nation's business. As Jenkins says the people knew who and what Donald Trump was and is when they elected him. If we don't like the way he conducts the nation's business we can impeach him.

The Dems, and people like Cassidy, will be crying conflict of interest even if he sells off his interest in his businesses so why bother.

In't it amusing that the Dems complained during the campaign that a guy who with such extensive business dealings throughout the world had no familiarity with foreign affairs.

LakeLevel said...

Trump has already taken a hit to his brand, arguably worth hundreds of millions or billions, because he thought he could better job as president than all the others. He knew going in that the press would savage him. To think that he cares at this point about a few hundred million here and there displays the small mindedness of the left.

Cacimbo Cacimbo said...

When billionaire Bloomberg was NYC Mayor lefty media was not as concerned about conflict of interest. After leaving office he resumed control of the company. You would think that a Mayor whose company made money by providing info for a price to Wall St would have had a real conflict knowing the regulations in advance - yet the media was just not that interested.

Freder Frederson said...

This wasn't brought up as a big issue in the campaign, but these were open facts staring us in the face. It wasn't used against him, so how bad can it look now?

This should have been. I don't know how your claim that the media was so against Trump passes the laugh test when they didn't raise these issues among many others (e.g., he demonstrably lied more than Hillary, his refusal to release his taxes, the self dealing and illegal contributions to his foundation, Melania's questionable immigration status).

Freder Frederson said...

1. It's legal, and 2. He was elected with these facts known, so the election means that the people accepted him as he is, and there is therefore no significant political problem.

Just because something is legal (and with the emoluments clause, the legality of some of his dealings are questionable), doesn't make it ethical. Your second point is weak at best. The press did not cover this aspect adequately.

Freder Frederson said...

So we couldn't talk about this during the campaign. I would have hurt Hillary, not Trump.

Oh come on, this statement is bullshit. The press obsessed about Hillary's emails and raked the Clinton Foundation over the coals, while ignoring or downplaying the clearly illegal acts by the Trump Foundation.

Freder Frederson said...

So we couldn't talk about this during the campaign. I would have hurt Hillary, not Trump.

There is no way to win with you. No matter how poorly the press vetted Trump, you will turn it around and say, "well if they dug into this or that, it would have hurt Hillary more"

exhelodrvr1 said...

Trump's global business experiences give him MUCH more insight into how the world actually works than most politicians have.

sane_voter said...

There is no way to win with you. No matter how poorly the press vetted Trump, you will turn it around and say, "well if they dug into this or that, it would have hurt Hillary more"

The truth hurts

Hagar said...

George Washington ran Mt. Vernon as an industrial agricultural operation, including the nation's largest whiskey distillery.

Come to think of it, all presidents from the South prior to the Civil War had a personal interest in the slavery question.

Mazo Jeff said...

With this "new" concern by the left and the MSM, but I repeat myself, the only solution is we elect only "politicians" who have never created anything, own anything, or done anything to political office. Like, for example, Russ Feingold!

robother said...

Shorter version: we should only have career politicians as President. (I'm sure that's what the Founding Fathers had in mind.)

Big Mike said...

@Freder, Althouse addressed your comment before you wrote it, as did Gahrie. The press didn't cover it because it would have hurt Hillary more than him -- maybe giving him Minnesota and New Hampshire too. And perhaps having financial skin in the game will help his standing as a broker, not hurt it.

The election was never between Trump and an ideal candidate. It was between Trump and the most personally corrupt candidate since the 19th century.

Freeman Hunt said...

The press line was that he wasn't much of a businessman, that he was a bankruptcy king who owned a few gaudy hotels and licensed some kitschy merchandise.

Ambrose said...

So if he succeeds in making America great again, he may reap some personal benefit. Let's think of it as analogous to a CEO's stock options.

Big Mike said...

@Freder, well you answered both me and Althouse. But here's the thing you need to wrap your mind around. Not every voter is you or like you. There are lots of things about the Clinton Foundation that weren't raised during the campaign in a way to reach the low information voter.

To paraphrase Richard Feynman when you set out to fool yourself you are fooling the person that is easiest for you to fool.

MayBee said...

Oh come on, this statement is bullshit. The press obsessed about Hillary's emails and raked the Clinton Foundation over the coals, while ignoring or downplaying the clearly illegal acts by the Trump Foundation.

Hillary planned to keep The Clinton Foundation going, and let Chelsea run it.

There was no conflict-of-interest free option this time around.

MayBee said...

Doesn't Congress exempt themselves from insider trading laws?

We surely aren't going to pretend Trump will be the only politician in our federal government who stands to gain wealth while governing, are we?
How much money is Harry Reid retiring with? How much money did Denny Hastert have to pay his blackmailers?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The idea the Trump, alone out of all other Presidents, would be forced to "liquidate" his holdings is ridiculous. Did the Kennedys sell out. The Clintons continue to have their holdings.

Should Trump AND his family be forced to abandon several generations of business holdings and impoverish themselves. Ridiculous. No other political figure has been expeceted to do this. Of course we don't want the President or any other political figure to enrich themselves while "in" office. Hey....how about all those Harry Reid land deals...nothing to see here.

A blind trust is unlikely as well. That is one where all the business dealings, the investment portfolios are done by third party firms unrelated to the principal. Since Trump's adult children are key figures in running his EXISTING businesses, they should continue to do so.

Trump can resign as CEO of the various holdings. Remove himself from the Board of Directors. Put his personal shares of the corporations he owns, put his stock investments etc., into a blind trust Cut as many of the ties, communications that exist between himself and the running of those businesses.

But but but...he will still have some communication with his children....Yeah. So? Do you think that it has been anything different in the past? But, because it is Trump, suddenly, now it is a big deal.

Personally, I think that if the political moves made, tax cuts, economic plans are good for the economy as a whole, and the Trump enterprises benefit as well....it is a good thing. A rising tide raises all ships.



Gahrie said...

Oh come on, this statement is bullshit. The press obsessed about Hillary's emails and raked the Clinton Foundation over the coals, while ignoring or downplaying the clearly illegal acts by the Trump Foundation.

Yeah guys..weren't you paying attention? The media was clearly in the bag for Trump and the Republicans, and hated Clinton and the Democrats and treated them unfairly.

Ann Althouse said...

"Just because something is legal (and with the emoluments clause, the legality of some of his dealings are questionable), doesn't make it ethical. Your second point is weak at best. The press did not cover this aspect adequately."

I agree that it's weak but I think it will end up being the answer. I'm just saying it's enough to add up to an answer that I'm predicting will work.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"Just because something is legal (and with the emoluments clause, the legality of some of his dealings are questionable), doesn't make it ethical"

At this point, what difference does it make?!

I love this quote. It works for everything.

William said...

If the Trump brand prospers because of his Presidency, it will be proof of his corruption. If it languishes, it will be proof of his stupidity. This is not an observation of how he is in a no win situation so much as it is an observation of how the press slants the news. The press is the one in a no win situation when it comes to reporting on Trump's financial dealings.......I believe that the Trump brand will rise or fall with the fortunes of America so I hope the brand prospers.

CWJ said...

I can just imagine some later generation wondering why people named so many buildings after President Trump.

Yancey Ward said...

The press literally couldn't cover it in any comprehensive manner because Clinton's own conflicts of interest were worse and historical in nature. Her husband started the money grubbing while she was in the Senate and then serving as Secretary of State afterwards. In addition, the money grubbing continued while she running for president the last 3 1/2 years, and one could argue she has been running for president since 2001.

Trump's will give up control of the business, and it is entirely appropriate to do so by ceding it to his children, but I predict nothing he does will be accepted by his opponents short of him selling the business and burning the proceeds in a bonfire on the front lawn of the White House.

Unknown said...

Ah to heck with them. Trump isn't going to go around playing patty-cake because of his business interests. Amazing that the media has now woken up.

Hypocrites.

readering said...

I'm not too worried about Trump bringing up his local businesses in courtesy phone calls. Seems akin to empathy-building small talk.

I am more worried down the line that Trump branded buildings in countries where there are problems with US policy will affect Trump--trying to avoid unpleasantness or being focus for destructive demonstrating.

Birches said...

Sane voter is r. There shouldn't be any new developments started while Trump is President to avoid the appearance of quid pro quo.

But really the Middle East is a giant boogeyman for anyone trying to score quick points. Any of the author's points also apply to The Clinton Foundation too. We do business with countries with horrible human rights records and attitudes toward homosexuals. They have a lot of cash to burn...

readering said...

It was brought up in the campaign with respect to Russia and was a factor in dumping Manafort. It was not bigger because people thought Trump was puffing on his overseas connections. But now that he has won dormant projects are coming to life.

Birkel said...

I cannot see how The Emoluments Clause applies to property already owned.

That it is perceived as the best argument by Freder Frederson (who does not understand the words he uses anyway) and other Leftist Collectivists is absurd. Any port - no matter how ridiculous - in a storm.

Tim said...

Trump has operated out in the open for his entire career. Hillary managed to turn $1000 into $100,000 by reading the Wall Street Journal. If only we could have elected this paragon of finance and virtue.

Seeing Red said...

It's not like American companies haven't been taken over before.

A lot of our oil companies' assets were "nationalized."

However, Trump! Just might not be like all the rest.

He's not a known quantity as president.

Trump! May just smash. Or he may let those assets be smashed and sue them and bring US economic might to bear.


Ohh, you need a loan? Let's make a deal....

BJM said...

Why would Trump accept financial advice from an adversarial, morally bankrupt and financially failing media and liberals who ran the country into the red to the tune of $9 Trillion in eight years, and one could argue that have been financially irresponsible since 1964?

Yancey's right, nothing Trump can or would do will satisfy or staunch the bitter anger of the left and the nattering class.

Trump will do what feels right, passes muster legally and ignore the whining.

Birkel said...

readering: "But now that he has won dormant projects are coming to life."

By dormant projects I assume you mean investigative reporting by the Democrats in the press. Correct?

Seeing Red said...

And it's not like some of those countries own pieces of American businesses now, is it?

It's a shame you have visa problems.

Freder Frederson said...

Trump has operated out in the open for his entire career.

Are you kidding?! All of his companies are privately held and he has refused to release his taxes. He doesn't answer to anyone and is extremely closed about his dealings. We can only guess the details of actual worth or business dealings.

Freder Frederson said...

I cannot see how The Emoluments Clause applies to property already owned.

But if, for example, the British government blocks windfarms or the Chinese forgive some of his debt, then that benefits him, even if his kids are running the company.

Birkel said...

Freder Frederson:

You are an ignorant parrot who mimics the arguments of your betters, poorly. You know fuck-all about the Emoluments Clause and have only recently become aware of its existence.

Try again when you are less stupid?

Michael said...

Unfortunately the rules of the left are meant to exclude any business person as President. Crony politicians, bullshit DC lawyers, lobbyists are all cool. Business people not so much.

So if Trump as president signs a bill that is good for all businesses is there conflict in his benefit? Is there any single thing that a President as businessman can do to help business in general that can't be considered a conflict by the howling left? Anything at all?

He owns hotels and they will benefit if the economy roars into action. Conflict? Hotels will respond nicely to inflation and if the economy overheats and hotels do well...?

There is no end to the nitpicking that awaits Trump from the anti-business left.

JaimeRoberto said...

Maybe if the press wasn't busy crying wolf about racism, misogyny and Putin, they could have focused on valid issues like this. But after all the wolf crying voters might have ignored it, and it would have opened another line of attack on Hillary. So they stuck with the wolf instead.

Michael K said...

Anything with "Trump" on it will be a prime target for his, and our, enemies

That's a good point. Maybe an extra incentive for him to win the "War on Terror."

The best answer was posted on Chicagoboyz.

The founders never thought to dissolve their business’ when elected, because they new they would return to them after SERVING the country.

Poor Freder knows nothing about business or much else, I think.

cyrus83 said...

It's true he has conflicts of interest and can't really ever fully get rid of them either given his net worth. On the other hand, the time to make this argument was during the election, which might have been possible had the Democrats not nominated a shameless influence peddler who fully intended to keep that Foundation going right on through her presidency.

I am interested to see how Trump manages it as a political issue, but I don't think it will be a major issue so long as the family steers clear of appearances of impropriety.

The Cracker Emcee said...

Donks regularly funnel government contracts to their spouses and families. They're not even very discreet about it. Shit, they're not even very, very discreet. Liberal hypocrisy renders this entire discussion moot. It shouldn't be, but that's the world they created and we'll just have to live in it.

Birkel said...

Republicans: Family Values
Democrats: Just a blow job

Democrats on Trump: third marriage
Republican voters: whatever

.......

Republicans: ethics in government
Democrats: Harry Reid getting rich while in public 'service's is no big deal. And besides, those millions from foreign governments would never buy favor from upstanding citizens like the Clintons

Democrats: Emoluments Clause
Republicans: whatever

n.n said...

Every politician benefits from a political brand. Every politician with foreign policy experience has a conflict of interest. This is true through both active and passive participation. Some politicians are just better protected by the Press and popular culture than others.

khesanh0802 said...

I was outraged by Feingold's ads that took Johnson to task for a " corporate payout" because he sold the business he had built in order to serve as Senator. Fortunately Feingold was fired again and I don't have to think about him anymore.

Fabi said...

Do the nepotism laws apply to ex-wives? It would be delish if he could set Ivana up as Secretary of State and get a "foundation" scam in place like the Clintons did. Perfectly legal and unremarkable according to the left -- might as well cash in!

rcocean said...

Given the MSM going in the tank with Hillary, Bill, and Obama for 16 years, who gives a fuck?

If its legal, I don't care if Tump's business holdings are "ethical". Where was the concern for Hillary's secret E-mail shakedown for the last 8 years?

Trump's 70 y/o and a worth $7 billion, am I supposed to believe he's going to take a bribe or give favors to the UK so he increase his net worth by .0001 percent - running for POTUS has probably cost Trump $millions$.

rcocean said...

I'm old enough that I can remember when Chris Matthews, Dan rather, NPR, etc. etc. were all OUTRAGED when Reagan left office in 1989 and gave a speech to 20,000 Japanese for $100,000. He was SELLING THE OFFICE!!!!

Fast forward 12 years and then Clinton's starting giving speeches on Wall Street for $100,000 a pop and gathering a fortune of $100 million. Criticism from the MSM? Almost Nil.

rcocean said...

As Trump says, "He Can't be bought" - He already has $Billions$.

Joe said...

So Trump's holdings might come in conflict with America's best interest because... what the hell are America's best interests in the places listed above?

richard mcenroe said...

Trump is the first President in over a century, if I'm right, to actually have had a successful business career outside of politics. Not surprised there's no precedents in place for that...but kind of telling.

aritai said...

Remember that someone takes a job (that requires senate confirmation) and is told to comply with these conflict of interest rules, the government covers all losses the individual takes as part of meeting the rules (because this qualifies as a government "taking" of their property. The individual gets to interpret them as they see fit, and the senate can judge if it cares what's left. Maybe this is all a gimmick to let Mr. T. escape from $100B in tax liabilities. He's nobody's fool. He likely knows how to accomplish both if "divesting becomes expedient. Of course nothing like this would work for the typical leftist, like Ms. C. who out of necessity shelters her (graft? what shall we call it?) in non-profits, foundations, charities, and the like, no "taking" involved if she has to part with them. So be careful what you wish for. The very wealthy who are totally outside the political system, and have never been trained how to be corrupt and deferential towards the press and elites and donors, or be constrained by their foolish rules to behaviors that no rational businessman, like Steve Jobs would accept as part of his employment or reporting to his board.

Skipper said...

Is it a conflict for a farmer who serves in a state legislature to vote for bills that benefit farmers? Or do you expect the farmer to sell off his land during legislative sessions?

Martin said...

It says something deep and not at all attractive that we have become so used to assuming that only career politicians can hold elective office that the ethics rules and expectations don't work for a business person.

The problem isn't Trump, who had every right to run for President; the problem is that we need to re-conceive our "ethics" frame as it deals with who can serve and how to deal with such issues.