The Lone Republican Focused on Trump's Ethical Conflicts

The Lone Republican Focused on Trump's Ethical Conflicts
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Amid the torrent of self-inflicted wounds and chaos threatening President Trump’s legislative agenda -- raising new doubt in the financial markets and on Capitol Hill about his ability to fulfill campaign promises -- it’s easy to miss that the presidency has been an enormous success for the Trump family business.

Behind the headlines about false wiretap allegations and the FBI investigating the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia, the feathering of the Trump family nest is going swimmingly, and Republicans are ignoring all of it.

But for White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s pitch for Ivanka Trump’s clothing line on “Fox and Friends,” which created record sales for the fashion line but was rebuked by House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and some others, new and blatant conflicts are being met with silence by the GOP.

Just two months into the Trump presidency it has been reported that: payments from foreign governments to the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., have not been donated to the Treasury as promised; the Trump sons are developing a hotel project in Dallas with a real estate firm that has business ties to Russia and at least 25 other countries; a deal with Anbang, a Chinese company with known ties to the government, that Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, closed the week after Trump was elected will now provide more than $400 million to Kushner’s family at Kushner Cos.; Trump’s golf courses are now hosting or bidding to host some of the top tournaments in the world; and overall “the stars have all aligned,” Eric Trump told the New York Times this month. “I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.”

Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, is suing the new commander-in-chief, attempting to block any payments Trump accepts that are in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. While he is joined in the suit by others including Norm Eisen, ethics chief under President Obama, Painter remains the lonely GOP cop on the kleptocracy beat and predicts Republicans will regret abdicating their responsibility to provide oversight of the executive branch.

“They certainly have gotten off to a slow start. I guess they wore themselves out last year going through Hillary Clinton’s emails. But they really do need to step on the gas here,” said Painter in an interview, predicting oversight will ramp up significantly over the summer. “If it does not, I think the voters are going to be in a very bad mood with respect to Republican members of the House and Senate if they’re perceived as not conducting oversight of the Trump administration.”

Trump’s “separation” from his business was inadequate, Painter asserted, because as owner of the Trump Organization, the president is taking in money from foreign governments connected to his licensing arrangements, trademarks, property deals and more. Painter noted recent trademarks from China, and said “the timing is quite suspicious,” since Trump was critical during the campaign of the Chinese and, once elected, spoke with the leader of Taiwan -- indicating he may not support the longstanding One China policy. “Then suddenly the Chinese government starts feeding up these trademarks and now we see the president endorsed the One China policy,” Painter continued. Anything that appears a quid pro quo, or “an attempt by an outsider to exert influence in the government through financial means, needs to be investigated as an attempt at least to offer a bribe,” Painter added.

Next month Trump, who has appeared nearly every weekend of his presidency at a Trump-branded property, will host Chinese President Xi Jinping at his “Southern White House,” Mar-a-Lago. The resort in Florida recently doubled its membership fees for guests now afforded the opportunity to mingle there with the president, his advisers, Cabinet secretaries and foreign dignitaries.

Many have written off Painter’s suit as unlikely to succeed, and Congressional Republicans are likely gambling that voters won’t focus much on business conflicts buried either under other Trump controversies or, even better, coming legislative victories that will cement his popularity and their hold on majorities in the House and Senate.

Painter thinks Republicans are making a bad bet. “People do care about the integrity of the government,” he said. “We have a right to know about debts that are owed by closely held entities owned by the president. We have a right to know where he’s getting his money from, and that’s not in his financial disclosure forms; it would be in his tax returns and he won’t release his tax returns. The public has a right to know who’s providing the financing for the Donald Trump business ventures and the same with other high-ranking officials.”

While more drama, diversion and outrage are all but guaranteed, and could cloak the benefits the presidency is bringing to the Trump bottom line, Painter won’t be distracted. He could make life hard for Republicans trying to wish it all away.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist.

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