Trump administration mired in conflicts of interest

Hunter Kaap Rencis

In a bipartisan letter drafted and signed by 13 sitting U.S. senators back in February, members of Congress articulated their growing concern for the Trump administration’s brazen conflicts of interests, writing, “A President must not have two masters. You have committed to serving the American people. It is a small price to pay for the unparalleled honor and gravity of your post that you not attempt to capitalize financially on the presidency,” according to a report filed by Federal News and Information Inc.

The disquiet came about before the breadth of a special investigation into the administration’s Russian ties had assumed its present capacity. Now, four months later, the Trump administration has made little-to-no effort to limit the appearance or the perception of his conflicting business interests. In doing so, President Donald Trump has succeeded in undermining the ethical accountability the president holds to the American people and the office to which he was elected.

The letter written to the President goes on to say, “Our Founders enshrined in the Constitution a safeguard against foreign influence upon all office holders, including the President, and throughout our history each President has conducted himself in a manner to ensure neither the perception nor the reality of violating this bedrock principle. You have not.”

Since he announced his decision to run for office, whilst standing atop a golden escalator inside Trump Tower, there are many who doubted the possibility that a real estate “icon” of his magnitude could ever possibly divest the entirety of his wealth. There are nearly 500 companies registered in the Trump name, spanning across five continents and some two dozen countries, according to Time Magazine, including Saudi Arabia, China and Russia.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the writings found in Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution, also known as the Emoluments Clause, the Founders explicitly forbade any U.S. president from accepting foreign payments so that the office of president would remain insulated from bribery or foul play from the private sector. If you’re not up to snuff on your Constitutional froth, in short, the architects of our democracy knew it would be easy for land owners and privileged citizens (like real estate moguls or foreign governments) to bribe a president into governing a certain way, so they declared that a “President acting for any motive or interest but to serve the United States, such as taking foreign payments without authorization by Congress, is in violation of the Emoluments Clause.”

Knowing the provisions of the Emoluments Clause, one should consider the gravity of a situation where Donald Trump is accepting payments, such as rent, from tenants like the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). In addition to being the world’s largest bank, the ICBC also holds the lease on the largest office space inside Trump Tower in New York. One doesn’t have to be a Constitutional scholar to raise an eyebrow at this arrangement between our president and a Chinese government-run bank. Or, perhaps the eldest Trump offspring, Donald Trump Jr., put it best when asked about the Trump family business ties to Russia while addressing a real estate conference in Manhattan, responding, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Time magazine reports.

Considering business ties of this magnitude, it is not unreasonable for the average American voter to inquire about some of the relationships Trump holds with some of his esteemed tenants and foreign business partners. Of course, much of this information would surely be disclosed in a tax return, but as we all know, Trump apparently rises above the practical expectation we uphold for presidential nominees to release their tax returns, a tradition upheld by every presidential nominee since Richard Nixon.

Unfortunately, the (potential) unconstitutional conduct of our 45th president doesn’t stop there. On top of these potential conflicts of interest, there is also the president’s use of something called “executive privilege.” Executive privilege is a tactic reserved for presidents and their appointed cabinet members, where members of the administration reserve the right not to disclose the context of any conversation or information discussed with the president with anyone, including congressional intelligence and oversight committees.

This past month, several members of the Trump administration have been asked to testify in front of congress regarding their involvement with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election. Normally, an investigation into matters like these are handled by the attorney general. However, Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from the investigation earlier this year, citing his proximity to both the Trump campaign and meetings he had with Russian officials, according to an article in USA Today. In all the fog surrounding Trump officials, matched with congressional pushback from Republicans, it appears the investigation into unconstitutional behavior is far from over.