I remember when George W. Bush was running for President in 2000. A lot of hub-bub was made about how he would be the first president with a business degree, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and how well he would perform his duties as such. Whether that degree had anything to do with it or not, his political record stands as testament to his being a poor leader.
Donald Trump, as we know, is a businessman, and has been for decades. He is most notably known in New York City, where he got his start, but his reach has become global to where his name is known around the world. His business dealings extend to other countries, including Canada, Mumbai, Indonesia, Panama, Istanbul, Scotland, Russia (where he's been involved for the better part of thirty years), and (as of just two months ago) China. The Chinese preliminary approval of Trump brands, which may become permanent next month, includes massage parlors and escort services. (The latter being called "escort and concierge services".) Trump's first public griping about China was just over a year ago, right around the time he applied for this brand approval in China. Divert, divert, divert.
What about divest, divest, divest? It is common practice for those elected President of the United States to divest themselves from any and all business ties. First, and foremost, there is the "emoluments clause" in the U.S. Constitution:
"[N]o person holding any Office [of the United States] ... shall, without the
Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title,
of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State" (Article I, section 9, clause 8)
Donald Trump's acquisition of a preliminary green light on branding in China was done without the consent of Congress.
The emoluments clause -- an emolument is defined as "a salary, a fee, or a profit from employment or office" -- was added to the U.S. Constitution (in the words of South Carolina Senator Charles Pickney at the Constitutional Convention) to keep "foreign Ministers and other officers of the U.S. independent of external influence". That was from the late eighteenth century.
Fast forward to the mid-twentieth century, there is the 1961 Supreme Court decision in the case of United States v Mississippi Valley Generating Company. The case dealt with a representative of the MVGC entering into a contract with the Atomic Energy Commission to build and operate a power plant to serve the long-defunct Atomic Energy Commission. Turns out, the representative was also an officer of an investment banking company which would have profited from the project. (He was the Vice-President and Director of the investment company!) The contract was terminated, since the project was deemed no longer necessary, by the Atomic Energy Commission. The MVGC sued the U.S. in a lower court for costs and damages and won, but an appeal to the Supreme Court resulting in its agreeing to review the case,
In its 9-3 decision in favor of the United States, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court's decision on the basis of the representative essentially acting on both the government and MVGC's behalf as well as the behalf of the investment company simultaneously, setting up a conflict of interest. As a result of the Supreme Court's decision, the contract was, in fact, rendered null and void. In fact, this representative's actions were in violation of a statute that reads:
"Whoever, being an officer, agent, or member of, or directly or indirectly
interested in the pecuniary [monetary] profits or contracts of any corporation
joint-stock company, or association, or of any firm or partnership, or other
business entity, is employed or acts as an officer or agent of the United States
for the transaction of business with such business entity, shall be fined not
more than $2,000 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both." (brackets mine)
Now, why, you may ask, bring up this case, as it has nothing to do with the office of President of the United States. Good question! Everything in this post up to this point means that, as a federal employee, you should be putting the interests of the United States first and foremost and not illegally profiting off such.
Yes, Donald Trump is President, but he is a businessman first and foremost. It is what he knows best, what he is most comfortable in dealing, and where he has achieved his financial success. He even admits to not being fully comfortable as President. How do you go from focusing on what's best for yourself, primarily, and even for those select others in your business circles, to focusing on what's best for an entire country? Well, "you don't" is not fully appropriate. Rather, the answer to how is more aptly "difficultly, continually, and without exception".
President Trump either does not understand that or thinks it does not apply to him. All of the previous presidents, sure. Him? Not so much. Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the U.S., gave up his peanut farm which he started from scratch. Richard Nixon, the 37th President, sold off most of his assets. John F. Kennedy, President #35, put all of his conflicts of interest into a blind trust. President Kennedy understood what a blind trust was. President Trump ... do I really need to say?
A blind trust means that all of the assets held by someone in public office (or not in public office) are run by a third party, with no information going to, or coming from, the person who initially holds those assets. It is done by presidents to help keep their focus on what is best for the country. And Mr. Trump? Well, at a Republican debate last year, when pressed on this issue, he responded by saying, "Well, I don't know if it's a blind trust if Ivanka, Don, and Eric run it. If that's a blind trust, I don't know."
Yes, he knew! Of course he knew! The only people who believed him when him said that are those who didn't know what a blind trust is and had no interest in finding out.
I mentioned earlier about making money for yourself and some select others. Let us look at the recent goings-on with the Kushner family -- yes, the family of Ivanka Trump's husband -- over in China. On May 5th, President Trump signed bill H.R. 244, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, into law. The bill is for the funding of the U.S. government to the end of fiscal year 2017. However, as reported by The New York Times newspaper, smothered in the nether regions of the text of the bill, there is a renewal of a visa program from which Jared Kushner's family stands to benefit mightily. The EB-5 visa program came out of the Immigration Act of 1990 and it allowed wealthy foreign investors to gain visas for permanent U.S. residence in exchange for investing at least one million dollars in companies that will employ -- get this -- at least ten workers. You read that right, ten workers. It has been riddled with scandals for years.
Even before Trump signed the bill into law, Jared's sister Nicole Meyer was already on a flight to China to participate in two Kushner Companies presentations to Chinese investors over that weekend. What were the presentations about? You guessed it, making a big investment in a U.S. business to gain visas. The dollar amount kicked around was $500,000, which would have to come from each investor, and it would be invested in a pair of luxury apartment towers located in Jersey City, New Jersey, called One Journal Square, owned by Kushner Companies. The total investment would be $15,000,000. One big problem, though, was Nicole Meyer's mentioning her brother's name and showing a picture of President Trump during her presentations. (Kushner Companies, back when Jared was in charge, received a whopping $50,000,000 investment from EB-5 monies for a condo high-rise called Trump Plaza, also in Jersey City.)
The military industrial complex has also been financially fruitful for Trump, and will continue to do so. When he ordered an air strike on an airfield in Syria last month, the missiles used were Tomahawk cruise missiles. Tomahawk missiles are made by a company called Raytheon. After the strike took place, Raytheon's stock price rose. And yes, you probably guessed it again, Trump owns stock in Raytheon.
And, lest we forget, Trump's Mar-A-Lago resort doubled its membership fees from $200,000 to $400,000 less than a week after his being sworn in as President, and he profits from everyone, including foreign dignitaries who stay at his D.C. Trump International Hotel, which opened in the fall of last year. He's even looking into opening a second hotel in D.C.
My point is not that presidents should not be allowed to make money aside form their salary. Many of them have paid speaking engagements and write books, including their memoirs, after they leave office, so to say other presidents can do that but not the current one is wrong. However, the Trump presidency is turning the White House into a farm ... he's using the position as a cash cow ...
... like almost any big businessman would.
Part 4 Tomorrow