Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–December 2017 Update

Last May, we launched our project to track credible allegations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests.Just as President Trump’s son Eric will be providing President Trump with “quarterly” updates on the Trump Organization’s business affairs, we will do our best to provide readers with regular updates on credible allegations of presidential profiteering. Our December update is now available here.

There were relatively few major new developments, though there are some changes and modifications throughout to reflect more recent coverage of some of the topics and controversies included. One major story involving possible links between the Trump Organization’s Panama hotel and money laundering, drug trafficking, and other criminal activity (dubbed “Narco-a-Lago” and a recent Global Witness report) is not included in our tracking document because the Panama allegations so far appear to concern conduct that took place before Trump became president. While we do not intend to minimize the seriousness of these or similar allegations, our project here is to focus on ways that President Trump and his close associates may be exploiting the power of the presidency for personal gain.

As always, we note that while we try to include only those allegations that appear credible, we acknowledge that many of the allegations that we discuss are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–November 2017 Update

Last May, we launched our project to track credible allegations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests.Just as President Trump’s son Eric will be providing President Trump with “quarterly” updates on the Trump Organization’s business affairs, we will do our best to provide readers with regular updates on credible allegations of presidential profiteering. Our November update is now available here. A few highlights from the most recent update:

 

  • The Republican tax plan, strongly supported by President Trump, would result in enormous benefits to President Trump, his businesses, and his family. While it is difficult to assess the degree to which President Trump’s personal financial interests–as opposed to a general ideological/policy preference for cutting taxes on the super-rich–may have influenced the tax plan, the concern (which, as Jacob recently pointed out, is exacerbated by President Trump’s lack of transparency regarding his past tax returns) is a real one.
  • A relatively minor but nonetheless troubling report involves the Chinese government’s attempts to get the United States to return billionaire Guo Wengui, who has applied for asylum in the U.S. After Trump supporter Steve Wynn, who relies on Chinese government permits to operate his casinos in Macau, delivered (and apparently endorsed) a message from the Chinese government asking for Guo’s return, Trump initially agreed that he should be sent back, but changed his mind after aides informed him that Guo was a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. In this case, improper financial interests seem to have played a role in both sides of the debate within the U.S. government on Guo’s case.
  • The recent “Paradise Papers” revelations, reported by the International Consortium of Investigative journalists, have suggested that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s conflict of interest may go beyond what had already been reported: The leaks from the Appleby law firm indicate that Secretary Ross maintained an interest in a shipping company that received significant revenue from a Russian company co-owned by Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.
  • As has been widely-reported, Puerto Rico initially granted a substantial no-bid contract for the repair of the island’s power grid to a tiny firm located in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, despite the firm’s lack of capacity and experience. While Secretary Zinke insists that he had nothing to do with the contract, the governor of Puerto Rico has called for cancellation of the contract, and several federal agencies are investigating.
  • President Trump is breaking with past practice by personally interviewing candidates for U.S. Attorney positions in New York and Washington, D.C., which has raised concerns given that these offices would have jurisdiction over substantial portions of the Trump Organization.

We will continue to monitor and report on allegations that Trump, or his family and close associates, are seeking to profit from the presidency. As we are always careful to note, while we try to sift through the media reports to include only those allegations that appear credible, we acknowledge that many of the allegations discussed are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.

Governor Brown’s Missed Opportunity to Promote Political Transparency and Fight Trumpian Corruption

Last month, Republicans announced their plan for a comprehensive overhaul of the United States federal tax code, the first in decades. In characteristic fashion, President Trump promised, “I don’t benefit. I don’t benefit.” To clarify his point, he added, “I think very, very strongly, there’s very little benefit for people of wealth.” Lest those statements left any doubt, Trump later claimed, “I’m doing the right thing and it’s not good for me, believe me.” Notwithstanding the President’s promises, a New York Times analysis found that Trump could save over a billion dollars if his plan were to be passed into law. Seemingly responding to this reality, Trump later amended his sales pitch by claiming that “everybody benefits” from tax reform.

Tax reform fits squarely into the third category of conflicts tracked by this blog: government regulatory and policy decisions that benefit Trump and his family businesses. Americans deserve to know how the President would personally stand to gain if his proposal became law. Yet the extent of Trump’s conflict of interest remains unknown, and unknowable, because of his widely-criticized refusal to release his tax returns.

Unfortunately, California Governor Jerry Brown squandered an opportunity to force Trump to shed some light on his personal finances when he vetoed the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act, which had passed both houses of the state legislature with overwhelming support. The Act would have required all aspiring Presidential candidates to provide their tax returns to the California Secretary of State (who would then publish them online) before the candidate’s name could appear on the California primary election ballot. In his veto message, Governor Brown explained that while he “recognize[d] the political attractiveness—even the merits—of getting President Trump’s tax returns,” he worried about the “political perils of individual states seeking to regulate presidential elections in this manner.” Brown identified two specific concerns about the bill: its constitutionality and the potential “slippery slope” it might create.

Brown’s arguments ring hollow. They seem particularly unjustified in a time in which state action is one of the few viable bulwarks against Trump’s corruption. Fortunately, other states, including Massachusetts and New York, are considering similar proposals. Those states can do better than California. Here’s why they should: Continue reading

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–October 2017 Update

Last May, we launched our project to track credible allegations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests.Just as President Trump’s son Eric will be providing President Trump with “quarterly” updates on the Trump Organization’s business affairs, we will do our best to provide readers with regular updates on credible allegations of presidential profiteering. Our October update is now available here.

There were relatively few new developments this month, though the list of existing conflicts and related concerns is still plenty long.. We will continue to monitor and report on allegations that Trump, or his family and close associates, are seeking to profit from the presidency.

As we are always careful to note, while we try to sift through the media reports to include only those allegations that appear credible, we acknowledge that many of the allegations discussed are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–September 2017 Update

Last May, we launched our project to track credible allegations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests.Just as President Trump’s son Eric will be providing President Trump with “quarterly” updates on the Trump Organization’s business affairs, we will do our best to provide readers with regular updates on credible allegations of presidential profiteering. Our September update is now available here.

Although there was much in the news this past month about troubling reports that Donald Trump’s business organization was pursuing plans to develop a Moscow hotel while he was running for president (which we don’t include in our tracker because it seems to pertain exclusively to pre-election activity), there were relatively few new developments this month. We will continue to monitor and report on allegations that Trump, or his family and close associates, are seeking to profit from the presidency.

As we are always careful to note, while we try to sift through the media reports to include only those allegations that appear credible, we acknowledge that many of the allegations discussed are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–August 2017 Update

This past May, we launched our project to track credible allegations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests.Just as President Trump’s son Eric will be providing President Trump with “quarterly” updates on the Trump Organization’s business affairs, we will do our best to provide readers with regular updates on credible allegations of presidential profiteering. Our August update is now available here.

Despite all the drama and turbulence surrounding the Administration over the past month, there is relatively little new material in this month’s update. Perhaps the most notable new reports concern the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Over the past month, new reports surfaced concerning companies connected with Kushner’s family business attempting to leverage his name and position to secure Chinese investment in real estate development projects, despite previous apologies by Kushner Companies to cease such conduct; Kushner enterprises claimed no knowledge that associated promotion companies were doing this. Additionally, reports surfaced that Kushner tried and failed to secure an investment from a Qatari billionaire (and former Prime Minister) for Kushner Companies’ financially troubled property at 666 Park Avenue, and the Trump Administration’s subsequent support for the boycott of Qatar by several of its neighbors appears to have been driven by Kushner, fueling admittedly unproven speculation that the Administration’s foreign policy is being influenced by hostility born out of a failed business deal, and perhaps an interest in signaling to other foreign governments, or individuals closely associated with foreign governments, that failure to do business with Trump or Kushner companies on favorable terms will adversely affect relations with the U.S. government.

(Note: While we try to sift through the media reports to include only those allegations that appear credible, we acknowledge that many of the allegations discussed are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.)

Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–July 2017 Update

This past May, we launched our project to track credible allegations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests.Just as President Trump’s son Eric will be providing President Trump with “quarterly” updates on the Trump Organization’s business affairs, we will do our best to provide readers with regular updates on credible allegations of presidential profiteering. Our July update is now available here. The most notable new highlight in the new material concerns two developments related to housing subsidies: First, while President Trump’s proposed budget proposed slashing funding for most housing assistance programs, it conspicuously exempts a program that provides payments directly to private landlords–a program from which Trump directly profits due to his ownership stake in a New York housing development that receives subsidies under the program. Second, President Trump appointed an event planner with close ties to his family (but no prior experience in housing policy) to a senior government position responsible for disbursing federal housing funds in New York and New Jersey, where the Trump Organization has substantial real estate holdings.

(Note: While we try to sift through the media reports to include only those allegations that appear credible, we acknowledge that many of the allegations discussed are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.)