The Pay-to-Play POTUS

Bad Hair

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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  1. KC  •  Nov 21, 2016 @12:41 am

    But it’s just not the same as emails . . .

  2. Swami  •  Nov 21, 2016 @2:13 am

    He still has the grim reaper to contend with at some point down the road. And given his propensity for peddling bullshit and creating allusion I wouldn’t be surprised if his physical fitness or overall health is the area where he meets his match. His flippant certification of good health provided by a medical lackey who never bothered to examine him should be cause for concern.
    I’m no doctor, but an overweight 70 year old white male who sits on his ass all day with absolutely no exercise is a prime candidate for getting a nomination by the grim reaper.

  3. erinyes  •  Nov 21, 2016 @7:31 am

    Remember, remember the 9th of November….

  4. c u n d gulag  •  Nov 21, 2016 @8:29 am

    Usually, you only see this kind of fuster-cluck in 3rd world banana republics in…

    Hey, now that’s US!
    The USA!


    Prepare for a Category 7 shit-nado!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    We are so very, very fucked…

  5. Bardi  •  Nov 21, 2016 @9:50 am

    “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.”

    Exactly. He was told to put it all in a blind trust. For someone who seems to understand public perception, he certainly is allowed to be blind in certain areas.

  6. c u n d gulag  •  Nov 21, 2016 @11:20 am

    t-RUMP – and his foreign associates – needs to realize that the buildings associated with him will become the targets of the local people who don’t exactly appreciate the results of the “genius” policies Republicans pass with Hair KKKaligula’s signiture.

  7. moonbat  •  Nov 21, 2016 @12:13 pm

    Or as King Louis XIV put it, l’etat, c’est moi.

  8. csm  •  Nov 21, 2016 @12:13 pm

    Yeah, complaining is about all we’ll be doing because, really, who’s going to hold Trump accountable, for anything?

    As long as Trump signs off on what the republicans in Congress want, they wouldn’t dare call him to account, on any level for anything. Instead, they’ll be shamelessly deploying pretzel logic to explain it all away. Republicans will effectively nullify the Constitution when it comes to emoluments, white house corruption and bribery.

    Before he’s done Trump will make Nixon look like child’s play. And anytime his idiot hordes are in danger of getting hit upside the head with any truths on just how worse the swamp has gotten under Trump, he’ll tweet out about Hamilton or some other made up slight to set their minds back on stupid.

    And in light of all of this, the leader of the democratic party found a need to say this:

    “I certainly don’t want them to do what Mitch McConnell did: Obama warns Dems against obstruction”

    Just when we really need an opposition party. And this is why no one believed Hillary, or any democrat when they say they are “fighting for you.”

  9. maha  •  Nov 21, 2016 @12:25 pm

    //And this is why no one believed Hillary, or any democrat when they say they are “fighting for you.”//

    Yeah, pretty much.

  10. grannyeagle  •  Nov 21, 2016 @5:20 pm

    Swami: Actually, one cannot predict these things. My brother neglected his health, never exercised, was an alcoholic, smoked since he was very young and preferred meat over veggies and lived to be 82. We can agree Trump does not have a healthy lifestyle but even medical science cannot predict when someone will kick the bucket. On the other hand, be careful what you wish for because if something happens to Trump while in office, we get Pence. He may be worse because the Repugs like him and he is in agreement with their platform. Trump is a loose cannon while Pence is a Bible
    thumper and a very committed, devoted one.

  11. paradoctor  •  Nov 21, 2016 @5:29 pm

    Any historians in the audience? I’d like to know: is Trump’s already the most corrupt administration ever, or did Grant, or Harding, or Andrew Jackson, or Andrew Johnson, or someone else, beat him to that dishonor?

  12. maha  •  Nov 21, 2016 @5:58 pm

    It is indeed a violation of Commenting Rule #10 to say anything critical of Ulysses S. Grant on this blog. Grant was very honest. I agree his administration had issues, but he wasn’t in on it.

  13. Swami  •  Nov 21, 2016 @5:53 pm

    paradoctor …You’re in trouble now. Just hope Maha doesn’t see Grant’s name listed as a corrupt administration.

  14. Swami  •  Nov 21, 2016 @6:22 pm

    It’s hard to say what administration was the most corrupt or what constitutes your understanding of corruption.. But off the top of my head I’d say Andrew Jackson came away from the office of president with an extremely large chunk of land in his holdings..Most of Florida. It wasn’t prime real estate back in the day but in today’s real estate market he’d be sitting pretty..

  15. Bonnie  •  Nov 21, 2016 @8:42 pm

    Found this interesting piece of history on Trump’s grandfather:

    After the initial shock, I am taking the attitude of the Russian spay in Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks. When asked if he was worried about being caught, tried, and possibly getting the death sentence, he replied, “Would that help?”

  16. vagabonde  •  Nov 21, 2016 @10:49 pm

    I read your blog very often but comment only once in a while. Not having been brought up in US schools and been taught American history much I have tried since moving here to learn more. I am only commenting because of what I saw someone and you said about Ulysses S. Grant. I have always been very interested in American Indian history and read very critical assessments of the way Grant dealt with them. Not long ago I read an article on one of the news site I read almost daily called “Indian Country.” The title of their article was “Ulysses S. Grant: Mass Genocide Through ‘Permanent Peace’ Policy ‘ – American Indians experienced some of the worst massacres and grossest injustices in history while Ulysses S. Grant was in office. “ There are many accounts about all the land grabbing that occurred under Grant’s leadership. It might have been his administration but he was in charge, no? From reading on this I did not have a good opinion on him, but then I am not looking at this from an American perspective, perhaps. American Indians have always been my hero, not cowboys. Here is the link in case you are interested:

  17. aj  •  Nov 22, 2016 @12:01 am

    Indian people . estecatulke, aren,t exactly in love with Andrew Jackson either. That was our first thought here in OK.I predicted there would be no trust no separation. big surprise people. I also think he may run the economy into the ground, turning loose energy industries and destroying the EPA. But everybody is soo busy cutting Clinton for those damn emails.

  18. bernie  •  Nov 22, 2016 @9:06 am

    The horror, the horror.  Up the river we go.  It is a strange journey where we lose all touch with civilization.  Crush the media, repress the arts.  Embrace the dark side.  Feel the hate.  You will know when you are at your destination when you see Marlon Brando and he teaches you to embrace the horror. 

    How are we going to cancel this cruise?

  19. Ed  •  Nov 22, 2016 @9:59 am

    It doesn’t make any difference if his businesses are in a blind trust. He still makes the money. At least this way is honest.

  20. maha  •  Nov 22, 2016 @12:29 pm

    Ed — Well, yes, I guess he will honestly and openly use the office of the presidency to shape U.S. policies in ways that make him richer, and the hell with the rest of us.

  21. csm  •  Nov 22, 2016 @1:18 pm

    Another advantage Trump has, and I say this not to be condescending or hurtful, is the general ignorance of the American public, on how the government works, what constitutes corruption and why that is a problem for the country. Many just shrug off Trump being able to enrich himself while in government, even as this was the very thing they railed against Hillary for, though there was little basis for it. Not only do they not understand these concepts, they don’t get their “understanding” is nothing more than conditioning induced by years of propaganda. They say “they don’t trust Hillary,” but when you ask why, they can’t tell you, and don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

    Trump will be able to get away with a lot, because too many voters just don’t understand what’s going on. They only believe what they are told, and the only ones doing any effective communicating, even though the bulk of it is rubbish, are the republicans.

  22. grannyeagle  •  Nov 22, 2016 @3:15 pm

    As far as the native Americans are concerned, I cannot think of any historical person who treated them fairly. The government wanted them gone simply because they wanted control of the land. I’m still mad about it. However, I am not a history expert so if someone out there knows differently, tell me.

  23. maha  •  Nov 22, 2016 @4:21 pm

    President Grant actually appointed a Native American to be Commissioner of Indian Affairs and attempted a benevolent policy, but it all went very wrong. Holding back settlers and speculators from encroaching on Native territories was like holding back the tide; the military commanders out West were less benevolent than Grant was; and Congress and other whites wouldn’t cooperate with the Commissioner because they were racists. Eventually the Commissioner resigned and the Grand Administration gave up.

  24. Swami  •  Nov 22, 2016 @4:21 pm

    Well, I know it’s not General Philip Sheridan. 🙂

  25. LongHairedWeirdo  •  Nov 22, 2016 @10:40 pm

    Even if we blame Grant for not Green-Lanterning better treatment of native Americans, I’m not sure I see how that’s “corrupt”. Tragic, yes… but not corrupt.

    (The Green Lantern theory of the Presidency is, if you have a strong enough will, you can supposedly do anything, just like the DC comics superhero, Green Lantern can accomplish anything with sufficient will and his power ring. Hopefully, Trump will show how *stupid* that theory is. God help us all if he shows it works.)