Donald Trump continues to draw attention with provocative actions and tweets. Similar to the campaign, Trump goes from one controversial moment to the next, grabbing headlines all along the way. A twitter tirade about CNN is quickly forgotten as the President-elect suggests that flag-burners should face a “loss of citizenship or year in jail.”
One issue that will not likely be dismissed anytime soon, however, is the growing concern over Trump’s potential conflicts of interest, involving his wide array for foreign business entanglements.
Trump rose eye-brows while conducting an interview with the New York Times editorial board on November 22.
“The law is totally on my side,” Trump said. “The president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
The remark instantly drew comparisons to Richard Nixon’s infamous quote saying that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
Trump issued a series of tweets, announcing a December 15th press conference where he will lay out how he will leave his business “in total.” He also said that even though he is not bound by the law to do so, it is “visually important” to not have a conflict of interest with his businesses.
It is unclear just how the president-elect would be able to separate himself. During the campaign, he floated the possibility of leaving his business in a “blind trust,” with his children in charge. The suggested solution was widely viewed as inadequate .
Less than a month after the election, many are already pointing to conflicts of interest, already impacting the future presidency.
The recently opened Trump International Hotel Washington, has a stipulation in the lease contract saying that it cannot benefit any elected official. The General Services Administration and legal experts agree that it is a clear conflict of interest but may not have legal channels to rectify the problem.
“This is a horrible outcome,” said David Drabkin, a former General Services Administration executive. Drabkin continued to say there may be no way to force Trump out, and that it “can only be resolved by the president doing the right thing.”
The one hotel is part of the bigger conflict of interest, involving where foreign diplomats decide to stay when traveling to D.C. and around the world.
The Washington post reported that many foreign diplomats were already planning on ways to “curry favor or access with the next president.”
“Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House” said one Asian diplomat in the report. “Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?”
Also, many see opportunities for foreign leaders to use Trump’s various international hotels and resorts to influence the future president.
Mauricio Macri, President of Argentina, called Trump to congratulate him on his election victory. Accusations surfaced that Trump asked a business favor from Macri involving Trump Office in downtown Buenos Aires
“Trump asked him to authorize a building he’s constructing in Buenos Aires” said Argentinian journalist Jorge Lanata. “It wasn’t just geopolitical chat.”
“Macri did not speak to Donald Trump about the building of the tower,” A spokesman for the Argentine president said. “They only talked about continuing the relationship between the two countries and recalled their personal relationship from years ago.”
A personal relationship that Trump seems to be looking to start, is one with controversial Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte has been conducting a massive drug war in the Philippines. The campaign has been the attention of much controversy with reports saying thousands of suspects have been killed without due process. Facing condemnation from the United States, Duterte has referred to Barack Obama as a “son of a whore” and threatened to sever relations between the two countries.
Donald Trump, as reported by the New York Times, is a partner in a $150 million 57 story building project in Manila. Developer Jose E. B. Antonio, a partner of Trump on the project has close relations to Duterte. After a phone call with Trump, Duterte said that the conversation was “encouraging,” and then reassured Trump of the two countries ties.
The same report also referenced Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan demanded the removal of the Trump sign on Istanbul’s Trump Tower, after the president-elect’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. Those demands have subsided, since Trump came out in support of Erdogan’s harsh treatment of those involved in the countries failed coup.
The potential conflicts not only lie in possible influence but enforcement. Many see Trump’s role as president and his business affairs as a way for the billionaire to police himself.
The Trump Hotel Rio De Janeiro, for example, is part of larger investigation by a federal prosecutor. The case, involving possible favoritism by two pension funds invested in the project, would pose an immediate conflict of interest. These types of conflicts reach both internationally and here at home.
Trump has been battling with workers at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. The National Labor Relations Board ruled against Trump, whose company has been in a dispute over employees trying to unionize. As president, Trump will have the ability to appoint new members to the board, creating another potential conflict.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Elijah Cummings have both signed on to a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, urging an investigation into these matters. The letter also sites multiple issues raised in regards to payouts of transition funds that go directly to Trump’s properties and airline.
“We are fully supportive of efforts to fund and effectively implement Mr. Trump’s transition,” the letter said. “But we have significant questions about the extent to which Mr. Trump’s conflicts of interest and other problems are affecting his transition are compromising the use of taxpayer funds.”
Significant questions being the only thing for certain we can pull from the growing list of potential conflicts of interest for the president-elect. As Trump steals headlines with provocative tweets, it’s those questions that journalists, politicians, citizens, and ethics committees are interested in seeing answered.
For now though, America waits for December 15th, when Donald Trump, an unprecedented president-elect, tries to separate himself from an unprecedented amount of foreign and domestic business entanglements.