Like a political Elmer Gantry, Donald Trump goes from city to city, proclaiming that only he can save America, spinning outrageous statements and spewing lies before heading off to his next revival meeting. Serious questions about his candidacy for the presidency are left unanswered or buried under a flurry of deceit.
Confronted with the recent Newsweek cover story detailing numerous potential conflicts of interest between his foreign business dealings and American national security should he be elected, Trump and his children responded with a litany of nonsensical claims. There would be no conflicts, he said, because he would put his company, the Trump Organization, into a blind trust. Then he said he would sever his connections with the business. With both answers, though, he said his children would run the company. Then his daughter, Ivanka Trump, a fashion designer and former model, jumped in with her goofy explanation, saying she and her siblings would figure out how to avoid deals that might raise conflicts of interest for their father.
The onslaught of words, to the uninformed, may have sounded persuasive. Voters could be excused for thinking the Trumps had solved the problem. They haven’t. Worse, if the Trumps believe what they are saying, there is no question a President Trump would be America’s most conflicted chief executive, forcing the United States to confront a problem that would be unprecedented.
The Newsweek article dug into the deals of the Trump Organization, a private entity with a global web of financial ties. The company—which made its name as a real estate developer and a (failed) casino operator—has not been in either business for years.
Instead, it sells two things: the Trump name and, until he began his national campaign, the reality television show The Apprentice, for which Trump was host and executive producer. The global conflicts that could undermine national security are in Trump’s branding business. He has many overseas partners with undisclosed ties to factions within their governments; a troubling number of them are criminals or under indictment. All of them are paying, have paid or about to start paying millions of dollars to the Trump Organization for the privilege of putting his name on their buildings.
So, if Trump gets into the White House, the president of the United States will be in a business deal with an Azerbaijani billionaire whose father is a prominent government official identified by American intelligence as a money launderer for the Iranian military. The Trump Organization’s partners in India would place America’s crucial but shaky alliance with Pakistan at risk. Relations between Trump and Turkey’s government are deteriorating in part because of his business connections there, and that country’s president has told people close to him that he will not allow a Trump-led America to use a military base that has been a critical staging area for the bombing campaign in Syria against the Islamic State group, known as ISIS. In other words, all these entanglements would imperil the national security of the United States.
These conflicts cannot be resolved with the simpleminded solutions offered by the Trump family. Start with Trump’s “blind trust” argument. Politicians using a blind trust hand over their investment portfolios to independent third parties that make trades of stocks and bonds without seeking permission or informing the politician. As a result, the politician doesn’t know what is in the trading account, thus eliminating the danger that financial interests will influence governmental decisions.
The lunacy of Trump’s argument is evident. If someone drops a huge curtain in front of Trump Tower, will Trump no longer know the building is there? And Trump already knows who his overseas partners are, so unless he suffers from an illness that cripples his memory, the conflicts will not be resolved just because those deals are in a blind trust. Another obvious problem here: It will be awfully difficult for Trump not to know what the Trump Organization is up to if, on a state visit to Russia, he sees “Trump Tower Moscow” on a high-rise there. Lastly, a blind trust is not blind unless the person managing it is independent of the owner, and Trump has said his children will manage the company if he wins in November.
Trump says he will “sever” his relationship with the Trump Organization, and his children will be running the company and will be its primary financial beneficiaries. In a true blind trust, the beneficiary continues to receive the financial rewards of the investment. So will money keep flowing to Trump? He won’t say. And it doesn’t matter, because it is clear he could easily enrich his kids and “their” company from the Oval Office.
Before anyone recites Trump’s “America is more important than the Trump Organization” shtick, take a look at what he has done during his candidacy: Repeatedly, he has shown that he is more concerned about his company than he is with either his campaign or the international economy. When a majority in the U.K. voted in favor of leaving the European Union, the value of the pound collapsed. On that day, Trump was in Turnberry, Scotland, presiding over the opening ceremony for a new Trump golf course.
Asked about the vote to leave, known as Brexit, Trump spoke not of the global economic chaos set off by the event, but of the benefits to his golf resort. “When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry,” he said.
Earlier this month, when Trump abandoned his yearslong effort to prove the risible claim that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, he made the statement at his new hotel in Washington, D.C. He devoted just one sentence to recanting his birther lie and spent the rest of the time praising his new hotel. Once again, Trump business trumped truth.
Finally, there was the explanation of this blind trust ruse advanced by Ivanka Trump on Good Morning America. Regarding the Newsweek article, she said, “There’s something so much bigger than our business at stake, and that's the future of this country. As a private business, we can make decisions that are not in our best interest…. We can say, ‘You know what? We'll do less deals,’ and, ‘Not going to do that deal, even though it's a fine deal.’ It's economically reasonable because it could create a conflict of interest, and we'll act incredibly responsibly.”
Let’s unpack this stunning statement. First, note that it contains an admission that Trump Organization deals would create multiple conflicts of interest for a President Trump. Second, we should just trust the Trump children to figure out which deals they pursue could affect American national security. Unless Ivanka Trump is suggesting that she and her brothers will be in the White House for foreign policy and national security briefings, or that their dad will give them occasional phone calls to discuss classified information, how will the Trump children know how to steer clear of U.S. foreign policy? Her argument here suggests she would not do well on the reality show Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?
The conflicts of interest between the Trump Organization and American national security, should Trump become president, cannot be fixed. The dangers created by having a president whose decisions could be based on his own and his children’s financial interests are unprecedented. The Trumps have a choice: They can sell the Trump Organization, or Donald Trump can be president. They cannot have both.