The President Has a Conflict, a Running List
Updated March 1, 2017
Days before being sworn in as president, Donald Trump announced a conflict of interest plan that did nothing to address his conflicts of interest or constitutional violations stemming from the foreign bribery clause.
Since that day, Trump has proved every outside ethics expert correct: through his tweets, his speeches, and his policies, it’s clear he is unable to disconnect himself from his business interests. On this page, we’ll keep a running list of all these examples. If we’ve missed anything, send me an email and we’ll include it.
Trump’s business partners were invited to his inauguration (January 20th, 2017). Days after Trump promised that he would walled off from his business interests, Mother Jones reported that “at least two of his wealthy foreign business partners attended his inauguration as VIPs, where they watched the swearing-in from prime seats, partied with Trump insiders, and posed for pictures with Trump’s children and grandchildren.”
Trump name-checked his Scottish golf course in a press conference (January 27th). In a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May, his first such event as president with a world leader, Trump mentioned his Scottish golf course. “And I happened to be in Scotland at Turnberry cutting a ribbon when Brexit happened and we had a vast amount of press there,” he said. Back in November, he reportedly urged a prominent British politician to do something about the wind farms impacting the course.
Trump’s unconstitutional and immoral Muslim ban excluded countries where he has business interests (January 27th). The night Trump announced his immoral seven-country Muslim ban, Bloomberg News noted something interesting: “His proposed list doesn’t include Muslim-majority countries where his Trump Organization has done business or pursued potential deals.” Now, to be clear, the ban would be bad–and against American values–even if it included those countries. But, the story is a reminder that as long as Trump maintains any ownership of his businesses, there will be questions as to why certain policies are put into place.
Trump’s business managers schmooze with Senators at Supreme Court announcement (January 31st). When he became president, Trump handed the operations of his company over to his two sons, Donald Jr. and Eric. This, he said, would address any possible conflicts because there’d be a firewall between the company and himself. When Trump announced his choice for the Supreme Court, these business managers–his sons–were in the audience schmoozing with U.S. Senators, policymakers who could make cuts to Medicare or other programs so that wealthy people like the Trumps paid lower taxes . As TalkingPointsMemo pointed out, “Their appearance served as a reminder that the dividing line between the Trumps’ political and financial interests is far from clear.”
Trump prayed for ratings for a show he has a financial stake in (February 2nd). At the National Prayer Breakfast, a solemn annual event in Washington, D.C., Trump used his speech to pray for better ratings for the Apprentice, a show for which he has an executive producer credit, meaning he makes money off the show so he’ll probably make more money if the show does better. “And I want to just pray for Arnold, if we can, for those ratings, OK,” Trump said.
Trump’s Wall Street policies could benefit his bottom line (February 3rd). Trump announced his plans to roll back the Dodd-Frank reforms aimed at preventing a repeat of actions on Wall Street that led to the 2008 collapse. “I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses, they can’t borrow money,” he said when announcing the effort. But, it’s not just his friends: deregulating Wall Street could also help him. Banks who’ll benefit from deregulation hold a lot of Trump’s debt and could look more kindly at him for repealing Dodd-Frank. But also, as George W. Bush’s ethics czar Richard Painter points out, “Deregulation is likely to lead to a bubble in the real estate market, as it has in the past. That ups the value of his real estate holdings, which the Trump organization could then sell at the top of the market.”
This once again raises the question: who is Trump looking out for, himself and his friends or the American people who were cheated out of their homes and savings during the economic crash? Because of his own holdings (and debt), and his rich friends, it sure looks like the former.
Melania Trump said her husband’s presidency is a good opportunity to build her brand (February 6th). In a lawsuit filed against a news organization, an attorney for Trump’s wife Melania argued that the defamation would prevent her from cashing on the presidency. Specifically, the lawsuit stated, “Plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person…to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world.”
Trump bullied an American company for dropping his daughter’s clothing line (February 8th). After high-end retailer Nordstrom announced it would stop carrying Ivanka Trump merchandise due to poor sales, Trump tweeted an attack on the company: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” It’s not hard to read between the lines here: hurt my family’s businesses, or my bottom line, and we’ll attack you with the full force of the presidency. And, in case that wasn’t clear enough, he retweeted the message from the official account of the president–@POTUS.
A White House employee violated ethics rules by promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing line (February 9th). In an interview on Fox News, White House employee Kellyanne Conway said during an interview in the White House Briefing room, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you”…”I’m going to give it a free commercial here, go buy it today.” This appears to violate executive branch ethics rules.
Despite “no new foreign deals” pledge, Trump’s sons start new project in the Dominican Republican (February 9th). After a decade of silence on the project, The Trump Organization is re-starting a licensing project with wealthy family in the Dominican Republic. The Trump Organization responded that this still fits in the “no new deals” pledge Trump announced prior to inauguration, ethics experts aren’t buying it. As Richard Painter told the AP, They can take the tiniest little past involvement in something and then extend it into an enormous new deal. There’s no way to distinguish between new business and old business.”
Trump rewards long-time members of Mar-a-Lago with access to a foreign leader (February 12th). It wasn’t enough for Trump to use a visit with a foreign leader to advertise his Florida resort, he also made sure to reward long-time club members with access to that leader, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. According to CNN, Trump made Abe talk with some newlyweds at the resort. He said, “They’ve been members of this club for a long time. They’ve paid me a fortune.”
Trump’s trademark fight in China suddenly settled after decade-long fight (February 22). After a decade-long legal battle to win the trademark for Trump’s name in China, the application to register his name in China was finally approved just weeks after Trump was inaugurated. As The Atlantic noted, “Because the announcement came shortly after Trump announced for the first time his commitment to the so-called ‘One China Policy,’ in which governments officially recognize the Republic of China but not Taiwan, the decision immediately prompted speculation about conflicts of interest.”
Kuwaiti Embassy event raises questions about foreign bribery clause violations (February 25). Late last year, the Kuwaiti Embassy announced it would move its annual national day celebration to Trump’s DC hotel–after canceling its reservation at another hotel in the city–raising questions as to whether it was a way for the country to curry favor with his administration. Whether the move was designed to buy influence is just one question raised by the event. As ethics expert Norm Eisen tells NPR, it could also violate the foreign bribery clause of the constitution that prohibits presidents from accepting gifts from foreign governments.
Trump gives free advertising to his restaurant’s hotel (March 1). There are plenty of delicious restaurants in Washington, D.C. but when Trump wanted a dinner out recently, he ended up at a place that could use the boost–his hotel. His decision to dine at his property in Washington is similar to all the time he has spent at Mar-A-Lago since being inaugurated–it offers free advertising to his properties, encouraging people who may want a chance to see the president to stay or eat at those places. It’s another example of Trump using his position to boost his bottom line.
Trump’s rollback of environmental protections will benefit his golf courses (March 1). The same day Trump delivered a speech before a joint session of Congress in which he pledged to “promote clean air and clean water,” he issued an executive order to rescind and rewrite a clean water regulation that would also benefit his many golf courses. In fact, the golfing trade association that lobbied against the rule “includes more than 20 Trump employees.” As Public Citizen’s Rob Weissman said in a statement, “President Trump’s pervasive conflicts will have a pervasive and profound impact on policymaking in America. Unless and until he sells his family business, we’re going to see policy designed to help his business operations at the expense of American well-being. It’s time for the for-profit presidency to end.