In 1921, President Warren Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, leased petroleum reserves in Teapot Dome Wyoming to several private companies. Sweetheart deal for those companies; they got no-bid contracts at extremely favorable rates. Fall’s standard of living also suddenly and suspiciously improved. The Senate got involved, investigated, and it turned out that Fall had accepted bribes. He ended up in prison.
The Teapot Dome scandal remains about the one thing anyone remembers about the Harding administration. You think ‘corruption in government,’ and Harding comes immediately to mind, despite the fact that he wasn’t the guy taking bribes. Anyway, that’s what corruption in government is. It’s Albert Fall. It’s what we call it when a politician uses the power of government to get rich.
Which is why the Presidency of Donald Trump, which hasn’t started yet, is shaping up to be the most corrupt in history. That’s even assuming he makes a good faith effort to govern honestly. But the web of Trump-owned businesses is so entangled with government interests, even if Trump doesn’t personally profit (or only profits to the degree that his businesses are successful), it looks terrible. And could break the law.
When the older President Bush became vice-President, he turned his stock portfolio over to a blind trust, so he could avoid the very appearance of conflicts of interest. Jimmy Carter did the same with his peanut farm when he became President. And yes, President-elect Trump has said he’ll turn over the management of his company to his kids, an arrangement he calls ‘a blind trust.’ But it isn’t. That’s not what a blind trust is. And he’s already vetting Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka for White House jobs.
The New York Times did a big story a couple of days ago about some of the more obvious Trump conflicts of interest. For example, Trump International turned the Old Post Office in Washington into a luxury hotel. The government still owns the property, and the General Services Administration manages it. Trump International runs the hotel, and profits from it. And President Trump appoints the head of the GSA. The President also appoints members of the National Labor Relations Board, which would also decide union disputes against his hotels. As it did last week, for a Trump hotel in Las Vegas.
In both of these instances, the federal government, the executive branch of which President Trump runs, will be potentially involved in resolving disputes with Trump-owned businesses, from which President Trump personally profits. Are there are other, similar conflicts. Hard to say–Trump hasn’t released his financial information.
There’s also Article One, Section Nine of the Constitution. Here’s the text:
No Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, 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.
Mr. Trump has business interests all over the world, and with many foreign governments. Remember during the campaign when Trump took a few days off from campaigning so he could show off his new golf course in Scotland? If he profits from any business deal with a foreign government, he could well be charged with violating the Emolument clause of the Constitution.
Remember the reason Trump gave for why he couldn’t release his tax returns? He’s being audited, he said. Audited, that is, by the Internal Revenue Service, whose director President Trump appoints. He’ll also nominate the Treasury Secretary, at the same time he owes millions of dollars to banks.
There’s also Michael Flynn. He was Trump’s first choice to be Secretary of Defense, a position he may be legally prohibited from accepting. He could be National Security Advisor, though. Right now, he works for a lobbying business. And one of his clients is Turkey. Again, at least a potential conflict of interest.
I just wonder if Trump even gets it. It’s not just that he’s a yugely successful businessman. It’s that a lot of his business success comes from his name, from marketing ‘Trump’ as a trademark. He’s 70 years old. He’s been a salesman his entire life. I’m not sure if the phrase ‘conflict of interest’ even registers for him. I’m sure he’s thinking ‘if I’m President, I won’t have time to run my company. I’ll just let the kids do it.’ And that’s it; that’s all; problem solved. But it’s not, not even remotely. It’s going to be a long two years. (That’s how long I give him before his impeachment).