NOVEMBER 23, 2016
The Trump transition is picking up steam and it’s clear we’re in for some interesting times in Washington. This is not going to be business as usual. But already there are danger signals flashing for the president-elect.
Mr. Trump famously campaigned on “draining the swamp of corruption in Washington,” a call that resonated that across the country. “We must fix a rigged system in which political insiders can break the law without consequence and where government officials put special interests above the national interest,” he wrote in USA Today on the eve of the election that changed his world—and ours.
Mr. Trump now faces some painful choices. The multi-billion-dollar Trump Organization, his life’s work, threatens to throw a shadow of corruption over the Trump Presidency before it even gets started. “Life is unfair,” another president said. There might not be a shred of truth to corruption concerns about the Trump holdings, but perceptions matter. Political insiders, government officials and special interests all will be drawn into the Trump Organization scandal vortex unless the president-elect moves fast.
The Trump Organization is a sprawling enterprise with complex business dealings across the globe. According to a Washington Post analysis of Trump financial filings, more than one hundred Trump companies had done business in South America, Asia and the Middle East. The New York Times reported that Mr. Trump’s fortunes “depend deeply on a wide array of financial backers” and his companies “have at least $650 million in debt.” As president, the Times noted, Mr. Trump would have “substantial sway” over fiscal policy, appointments directly affecting his financial interests, legislative issues impacting his net worth, and official dealings in foreign countries where the Trump Organization does business.
Numerous examples of potential Trump conflicts have already surfaced:
In China, a frequent Trump target on the campaign trail, the government-controlled Bank of China is part of a group that loaned a Trump affiliated office building in Manhattan $950 million.
In India, Trump business partners are building luxury apartment complexes. Three Indian developers flew to New York last week and met with the president-elect.
In Argentina, news reports say President Mauricio Macri fielded a request from the president-elect for help with an office building project in Buenos Aires during a congratulatory phone call. Spokesman for both men denied the account. Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, joined the men for a portion of the call.
In Saudi Arabia, the Trump Organization is exploring hotel deals in the Red Sea port of Jeddah.
In Germany, troubled Deutsche Bank has been involved in $3.5 billion in loans to Trump entities since 1998. Loans of more than $350 million from the bank are tied to Trump properties in Miami, Chicago and Washington.
Deutsche Bank is fighting off a Justice Department demand that it pays a $14 billion settlement for corrupt practices during the housing crisis. The Trump Administration takes over Justice in less than a month. Deutsche Bank officials are looking to stall until the new administration is in place.
Doubtless there is more to come on Mr. Trump’s foreign connections and finances. Not least from Mr. Trump’s still unreleased tax returns. Mr. Trump lately has taken to declaring “no one cares” about the tax returns—except maybe some “losers” in the media. That’s a dangerous delusion. One way or another, the Trump tax returns will emerge. The better move is to get out in front of it.
The Trump Organization is a family enterprise, with Mr. Trump’s three adult children holding leading roles. Why not just turn it over to them? Previous presidents established “blind trusts” for their holdings while in office, though none of those entities came close to the size and complexity of the Trump Organization. But blind trusts must be run by independent managers, and children don’t qualify—particularly the Trump children, who have been involved in the transition and seem poised to play important roles advising their father in the White House.
As the Wall Street Journal noted, the Left is already teeing up the Trump Organization as a daily target and the political damage to the new administration could be extensive. Every Oval Office move will be scrutinized under the lens of personal profit (the echo here of Trump’s own effective assault on the Clintons and the Clinton Foundation is unmistakable), foreign partners will be put under the microscope in the search for sketchy connections, and Mr. Trump’s children will come under relentless attack.
Mr. Trump could choose to fight. His lawyers could throw a legal blanket over the Trump Organization, declare his children valid managers of a blind trust, and take on all comers. But the drumbeat from the media and Democrats would be ceaseless, and legal challenges would follow, drawing the Trump Administration into a morass. Being on the losing end of a battle over the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution could have dire consequences for the Trump Presidency.
The alternative calls for considerable personal sacrifice from Mr. Trump. He could declare a transparency revolution, liquidate the Trump Organization, and release his tax returns. It’s smart policy and good politics too, giving the new president a commanding position on the moral high ground for a true anti-corruption crusade.
Liquidation would be painful and costly. The Trump Organization has been Mr. Trump’s life’s work and he clearly relishes his role at its helm. But if Mr. Trump doesn’t drain his own swamp of conflicting interests soon, he may find himself drowning in it.
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: firstname.lastname@example.org
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