BY STATE SENATOR JAMES SANDERS, JR.
When President Trump took office, there were questions about how this billionaire businessman would be able to separate his corporate interests from the job of running the country. It was a big deal for everyone; it seems, except for the president himself. Let’s be clear, superficially he did what he was supposed to do. He surrendered control of his business to his sons – Donald Jr. and Eric – and said he would not have any hand in its management operations.
This action is more than good ethics; it is dictated by the constitution in something known as the emoluments clause, which, among other things, prevents the president from being a bribery target by a foreign government. Trump hired a lawyer Sherri Dillon – to design a plan to keep him completely isolated from the Trump Organization. However, whether intentionally or not, there have been violations of the emoluments clause and now Trump is facing three lawsuits related to it.
Dillon claims the clause does not cover goods and services, so a foreign government paying for lodging at a Trump Hotel, would not count, but others disagree, contending that is exactly the type of transaction prohibited by the constitution. To counteract this, trump has said he would donate all of the foreign money profits made at his hotels to the U.S Treasury.
It would be convenient if we could stop Trump’s conflict of interest story here, but the tale goes a lot further, much to the likely detriment of our country. Let us look at a few more examples. He did not make his tax returns public, breaking a custom that has been followed by every president since Richard Nixon.
Trump hired his son-in- law, Jared Kushner, to be his senior advisor, which would appear to be a violation of federal anti-nepotism laws, but the Justice Department says not so. It concluded that the policy only covers only appointments in an “executive” agency and that the White House Office is not an executive agency.
In June, Trump Hotels began actively “seeking global opportunities,” according to its website which differs from the promise that Trump made regarding no new foreign deals, which was laid out in his ethics plan. The Trump Organization is also pursuing a licensing deal for a beachfront resort in the Dominican Republic. That sounds like a foreign deal to me.
The list goes on and on.
Let’s fast forward to a more recent incident here in Brooklyn, New York, involving a massive low-income housing complex, known as Starrett City, which is made up of 46 buildings and contains 5,000 apartments. Trump has an ownership stake in the property, which he inherited from his father, and from which he collects rental income. Starrett City also receives federal aid through rental support programs overseen by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
All we have to do in order to understand that this and other major conflicts of interest involving Trump is to follow the money. If it leads back to Trump’s pockets, then we are in a serious predicament. Under those conditions, we must compel the President to be truly ethical when it comes to separating himself from his business ventures and that may mean creating new legislation, because we find ourselves in unchartered territory.