Donald Trump, a walking conflict of interest

I doubt if Donald Trump could get through a single day, certainly not a single week, without being involved in a conflict of interest.

The Atlantic magazine has drawn up a list of 39 issues (and counting) in which decisions by President Trump will affect the profitability of the Trump Organization.

Maybe the biggest one is the federal investigation of the Deutsche Bank, which holds $300 million in IOUs from the Trump Organization.

U.S. banks wouldn’t give Trump credit after he defaulted on debt when his Atlantic City casinos declared bankruptcy, so he turned to the Deutsche Bank, which is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice on charges of  laundering money for Russian mobsters.  Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said he will continue this investigation impartially.  We’ll see,

The Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service have been conducting investigations as to whether the Trump Organization violated labor law and tax law.   Will these investigations continue?  We’ll see.

The Trump Organization’s lease agreement with the General Services Administration for the Trump International Hotel property contains a provision that no elected official will be part of the lease.  But the GSA has ruled this doesn’t apply to Trump because he’s no longer officially head of the business.  An impartial decision?  Maybe.

Trump’s business is involved in business deals with politicians and close relatives of politicians in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, Dubai and Argentina.  Will Trump, if necessary, make decisions that threaten those relationships?  We’ll see.

And then there are daughter Ivanka’s women’s fashion business and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s family real estate businesses.

Never even mind the penny-ante stuff—Donald Trump charging the Secret Service for use of Trump facilities while they guard him and his families.

Any of these conflict would be highly controversial as a stand-alone issue.  The problem is that there are so many issues it is impossible to remember any one of them.

The problem is that there is hardly any decision that Trump or his appointees can make—whether in foreign policy, tax policy, labor policy, environmental policy or consumer protection—that will not in some way affect the profitability of the Trump businesses.

Trump’s answer to this is that he has resigned from management of the businesses.  He has turned that job over to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr..   Similarly Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have resigned from management of their businesses.

But they still are aware of those businesses, still profit from them and still have some idea of how those businesses will be affected by governmental decisions.  Foreign governments, too, have the power set policies that help or hinder the Trump businesses.  And people who want to curry favor with the administration will no doubt patronize Trump businesses.

Donald Trump has announced he will donate his salary to charity, which is a nice gesture, but does not get at the heart of the problem.  There is nothing wrong with a President getting a large salary.  The problem is in getting money, directly or indirectly, from outside interests.

All that said, I don’t see a straightforward way to fix this, other than go back in time and re-vote the 2016 election.

The wealth of most federal appointees who are subject to conflict-of-interest laws is in the form of stocks, bonds and other financial assets.  They sell those assets and the proceeds are put into a blind trust, which is managed by a trustee; they don’t know what they own until they leave office.

The Trump Organization is a family business whose assets are mostly in the form of real estate.

Even if Trump wanted to do the right thing and sell off his business, this would be a long and complicated process, and would involve conflicts of interest in itself.


If Donald Trump were a completely selfish, but completely rational, person who acted intelligently in terms of his long-range self-interest, the United States and the rest of the world would be safer than they are now.

I don’t think Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest are unimportant.  I think they do affect his thinking about policy and, even if they didn’t, I think it is bad to give special interests and foreign governments the idea that they have a lever over the President of the United States.

But the worst things about Trump are his ignorance, his vanity and his impulsiveness, not his greed.    He derives no financial benefit from risking nuclear war, demonizing immigrants or ignoring climate change.

 What his conflicts of interest do is to create a new normal—a new and lower normal—in which it is not only normal for Presidents to cash in after their public service, but normal to cash in while they are serving in office.


The Trump Family and the Gish Gallop-ization of American Politics on No More Mister Nice Blog.

The Trump Administration is full of mind-boggling conflicts of interest by Nomi Prins for The Nation.

Donald Trump’s Conflicts of Interest – a Crib Sheet by Jeremy Venook for The Atlantic.  The master list.

Donald Trump: a list of potential conflicts of interest by BBC News.

Donald Trump’s 10 Troubling Deals With Foreign Power-Players by David Kravitz and Al Shaw for ProPublica.

Tracking Trump’s National-Security Conflicts of Interest by Caroline Houck for Defense One.

How Trump’s Property In Manila Looms Over His Interactions With Duterte by Jeremy Venook for The Atlantic.

New Trump condos worth $250 million pose potential conflict by Nick Penzenstadler, Steve Reilly and John Kelley for USA Today.

Deutsche Bank Remains Trump’s Biggest Conflict of Interest Despite Settlements by Jesse Eisinger for ProPublica.

Trump Hotels, Amid Calls to Divest, Instead Plans U.S. Expansion by Hui-young Yu and Caleb Melby for Bloomberg News.

White House top aides raked in millions last year by Donovan Slack, Paul Singer and Fredericka Schouten for USA Today.

Why Trump’s Conflicts of Interest Won’t Hurt Him by James Surowiecki for The New Yorker.

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