Donald Trump has already postponed his promised December 15 announcement about how he is going to divest himself of his immense conflicts of interest because of his business ties around the world until after the new year and the Electoral College votes. He did tweet out the thin plan that his sons would be handed the reins of the family’s far-reaching real estate firm, a plan experts say falls very short of the mark, both legally and ethically.
But as Kurt Eichenwald details in a bombshell report published in Newsweek Tuesday, the corruption is already underway.
“Donald Trump hasn’t been sworn in yet, but he is already making decisions and issuing statements to world leaders that radically depart from American foreign policy, all to the benefit of his family’s corporate empire,” Eichenwald opens. “Because of this, the next president of the United States is already vulnerable to undue influence by other nations, including through bribery and even blackmail.”
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The only way to get rid of these risks, according to Eichenwald and various other constitutional and legal experts, is for Trump to sell the Trump Organization outright and divvy up the proceeds amongst his clan (or keep it all for himself), since every foreign leader will otherwise know very well that it is in their interest to do business with the Trumps.
Trump’s Russia ties are only the beginning. Some of his most obvious conflicts of interests are in Asia and its subregions. Eichenwald describes how Trump has already cozied up to Rodrigo Duterte, the murderous president of the Philippines who is waging all-out war on his country’s drug trade by dispatching vigilante death squads to slaughter people. Trump reportedly signaled his approval of Duterte’s tactics when the two chatted in early December. Meanwhile, work on Trump Tower at Century City in Makati, Philippines, is nearly completed, giving Trump incentive to keep things friendly with Duterte. Plus, as Eichenwald reports, “The Trump family has an enormous financial interest in Duterte’s deadly campaign. Rooting out crime in the Philippines is good for the real estate values.”
Duterte has named Jose EB Antonio, the head of Century Properties, as special envoy to the United States. Eichenwald delves deeper into the various ways Trump’s unsavory business interests in the Philippines could have an effect on policy decisions, from immigration to trade policy with China. And having the property put in a “blind trust” to his children in no way solves the myriad conundrums.
Similar conflicts are set to play out in both Taiwan and Turkey. What was behind Trump’s infamous apparent gaffe when he accepted a congratulatory call from the president of Taiwan, therefore greatly offending China? Trump won’t say, but Eichenwald points out that the Trump Organization has expressed an interest in some hotel properties there.
Trump’s relationship with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Trump family’s stake in a two-tower complex in Istanbul, poses a very real danger of blackmail, Eichenwald writes, carefully laying out the case.
In 2008, the Trump Organization struck a multimillion-dollar branding deal with the Dogan Group, a large corporation named after its influential family, for a two-tower complex in Istanbul. In 2012, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan presided over the opening ceremonies and met with Trump. But in June of this year, Erdogan called for the Trump name to be removed from the complex because of his anti-Muslim rhetoric; the Turkish president also said presiding over the dedication had been a terrible mistake. Erdogan later told associates he intended to impede America’s use of a critical Air Force base in Turkey should Trump win the presidency, a Middle Eastern financier with contacts inside the Turkish government told Newsweek. The financier spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing relations with his official contacts.
In July, members of the Turkish military attempted a coup. Erdogan crushed the plotters, and his government has arrested more than 36,000 suspected participants and shut down 17 media outlets. The primary culprit, Erdogan declared almost immediately, was Fethullah Gülen, a 77-year-old Muslim spiritual leader who has lived in Pennsylvania’s Poconos region for many years. Erdogan demanded that the Obama administration extradite Gülen to face charges related to the coup.
Eichenwald traces some very convincing dominoes that might fall and lead to Trump’s deciding to extradite Erdogan’s nemesis, since both leaders clearly have something the other wants. “Given the extraordinary power Donald Trump now wields,” Eichenwald concludes, “it’s obvious that foreign governments and corporations can easily curry favor, bribe or even blackmail him, which is why the Founding Fathers so feared outside influences on the Executive Branch.”
Trump has a huge choice in front of him. Will he make the right decision not to be corrupted by his obvious conflicts of interest as leader of the free world?