Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, November 20th, 2016.


The Pay-to-Play POTUS

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What we will be complaining about ineffectually for at least the next four years:

Adam Davidson in The New Yorker:

Donald Trump has decided not to put his businesses in a blind trust, a mechanism by which his assets would be managed by people with no direct connection to the President. Instead, he has asked his children to continue to manage the global operation, which raises the possibility of an appearance of a conflict of interest. In the case of Ivanka Trump’s presence at a discussion with the Japanese premier, however, the conflict became explicit. In her new role as co-director of the companies, she will oversee negotiations with real-estate developers around the world. While the company hasn’t announced any projects in Japan, it seems reasonable to assume she might talk to companies there. …

The very nature of Trump’s business is rooted in the subjective value of being associated with Donald Trump and his family. The Trump Organization’s business model, as Danziger describes it, has shifted from building its own projects to selling rights to the Trump name, and to its newest brand of hotels, Scion. As Paul Waldman points out in the Washington Post, the price of such a license is subjective, determined by the buyer’s perception of its value. Licensees—say, a hotel developer in Japan—would have commercial calculations, such as how much business the Trump and Scion brands bring. Those potential buyers may now also have political calculations. How helpful would it be for any other venture they are involved in to also be business partners with the family of the President of the United States?

It occurs to me that some people might start to think of Trump’s buildings outside the U.S. not just as symbols of western hegemony, but as encroachments by the US government on their sovereign territory.

In many countries, being known as an entryway to conversation with the Trump family could, on its own, be worth many millions of dollars. Many have written about fears of overt corruption in a Trump Administration. But even if there is no explicit corruption, it’s impossible for Trump’s Presidency not to affect the way his partners value their associations with him. At the very least, his hotels—particularly the new one in Washington, D.C.—are likely to do a brisk business. As the Washington Post reported, diplomats see staying at the hotel as “an easy, friendly gesture to the new president” and quoted one unnamed Asian diplomat as saying, “Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?’ ” It seems clear that he and his family will be enriched by his term as President.

 And anyone who thinks that Trump won’t be discussing the family business with his kids is a bigger rube than Trump’s voters.

 We’re already seeing signs that Trump’s foreign policies will align with his business interests. Washington Post:

Turkey is a nation in crisis, scarred by government crackdowns following a failed coup attempt and on a potential collision course with the West. It is also home to a valuable revenue stream for the president-elect’s business empire: Trump Towers Istanbul.

Donald Trump’s company has been paid up to $10 million by the tower’s developers since 2014 to affix the Trump name atop the luxury complex, whose owner, one of Turkey’s biggest oil and media conglomerates, has become an influential megaphone for the country’s increasingly repressive regime.

That, ethics advisers said, forces the Trump complex into an unprecedented nexus: as both a potential channel for dealmakers seeking to curry favor with the Trump White House and a potential target for attacks or security risks overseas.

Will Trump use U.S. military resources to protect his revenue streams? Note that Indian business partners have met with Trump since the election.

Back to WaPo:

 At least 111 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries and territories across South America, Asia and the Middle East, a Washington Post analysis of Trump financial filings shows.

The business interests range from sprawling, ultraluxury real estate complexes to one-man holding companies and branding deals in Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Panama and other countries, including some where the United States maintains sensitive diplomatic ties.

Some companies reflect long-established deals while others were launched as recently as Trump’s campaign, including eight that appear tied to a potential hotel project in Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich Arab kingdom that Trump has said he “would want to protect.”

And there will be no blind trust.

Roger Parloff writes at Fortune that presidents are exempt from federal conflict of interest laws. However, every president in modern times has placed assets in a blind trust anyway. Federal criminal bribery charges do apply to presidents, so an obvious quid pro quo could get him into trouble. He is also not allowed to accept gifts.

In Donald Trump’s case, according to the New York Times, at least one of his businesses has outstanding loans from the Bank of China, which is majority owned by the state. Loans typically have dozens of conditions, and if the bank were to ever forgive or forbear on any of those, or Trump were to negotiate a refinancing, it would be scrutinized microscopically to see if it was a “gift.” If Trump’s policy toward China were tough, it might look like was exerting pressure in an effort to win better terms on his company’s loans. If his policy were accommodating, it might look like he feared retaliation by the bank in the form of tighter terms on those same loans.

White House ethics lawyers ordinarily pore over presidents’ tax forms each years (and those of cabinet members and nominees) to make sure there are no emoluments problems. Because Trump has refused to make his returns public, scrutiny of potential problems has been impossible so far.

And what about Russia? Again, we don’t know what we don’t know. But by all appearances Trump has long-standing business ties to Russia. How much will that influence his foreign policy?

The Boston Globe:

AS A PRESIDENTIAL candidate, Donald Trump vilified the Clinton Foundation as a dark criminal enterprise. No quid pro quo between any donation to the foundation and any official action taken by Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state was ever established. But Trump told voters the Clinton Foundation’s acceptance of money from foreign leaders while Clinton served as America’s top diplomat represented pay-to-play corruption.

If that’s Trump’s definition of a corrupt enterprise, he seems about to create his own version. The president-elect has already named his children — Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka — to his transition team, and said he intends to rely upon them as advisors once he takes office. At the same time, he is putting his children in charge of the family’s vast business empire.

Of course, the IOKIYAR rule applies here, and Trump spokespersons are busily putting out statements that it’s just outrageous to think the POTUS-elect would use his position to make money. Yada yada yada.

Very serious stuff, here.

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