President-elect Donald Trump received renewed scrutiny over the past few days as observers questioned his ability to separate business ties from the office of the presidency following two questionable meetings he held.
The Manhattan billionaire met last week in his Trump Tower office with three Indian business partners who are building a Trump-branded apartment complex near Mumbai, The New York Times reported.
The three men posed with Trump in a picture posted to Twitter, and a spokeswoman for Trump described the meeting as a courtesy call from the three executives.
“It was not a formal meeting of any kind,” Breanna Butler, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organisation, told the Times.
In a text message exchange with the Times, one of the three businessmen said that a report in an Indian newspaper about another partner discussing a desire to expand the deals with Trump’s family was true.
Butler said that the president-elect will not have dealings in the day-to-day dealings of the Trump Organisation, while another spokeswoman added that “the structure that is ultimately selected will comply with all applicable rules and regulations.”
A subject of frequent concern during the campaign, the meeting wasn’t the only one that raised questions about how Trump will separate his business dealings from his work as president.
During a meeting last week with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, an executive vice president in the Trump Organisation, was photographed sitting in on the discussion between the two leaders.
At various points along the campaign trail, the president-elect said his business would be controlled by his children in what he termed as a “blind trust,” even though that constitutes an independent manager, not someone as closely tied to Trump as his children.
Ivanka sitting through the meeting only further blurred the lines between both the business empire and the upcoming Trump presidency.
A Sunday Washington Post story showed that 111 separate Trump companies have conducted business in 18 separate countries across South America, the Middle East, and Asia. Pointing specifically to a Trump Towers project in Istanbul, something that Trump at one point said could present “a little conflict of interest” the Post wrote that “policy and ethics experts are scrambling to assess the potential dangers of public rule by a leader with a vast web of private business deals.”
The biggest legal risk Trump faces as a result of his business ties is a passage in the Constitution known as the emoluments clause, which forbids government officials from receiving gifts from a foreign government.
As the Post noted, a payment from a foreign official or state owned company to a Trump hotel or other company bearing his name could potentially violate the cause. So could favourable legislation or treatment overseas from a government aimed at benefiting a Trump property.
“You were elected to the presidency with a promise to eliminate improper business influence in Washington,” a group of ethics advisers wrote in a Thursday letter to Trump. “There is no way to square your campaign commitments to the American people — and your even higher, ethical duties as their president — with the rampant, inescapable conflicts that will engulf your presidency if you maintain connections with the Trump Organisation.”
Trump Organisation executive vice president and general counsel Alan Garten told the Post in a September interview that the control of the companies will be passed to his children and the final arrangement “will comply with all applicable rules and regulations.”
During a gaggle with reporters in Trump Tower Monday, top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway said she is “very confident he’s not breaking any laws” and that he has lawyers and advisers who are telling him what he can and can’t do.”
Earlier Monday afternoon, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote a letter to the Office of Government Ethics requesting information on how the office plans to address potential conflicts of interest regarding Trump’s business empire.
“The full extent of his financial interests remains unclear, in part because he was the first presidential candidate in modern history to decline to release his tax returns to the American public,” the Delaware Democrat wrote. “These unique circumstances raise important questions about how the Administration of President-elect Trump will avoid conflicts of interest and ensure integrity of executive branch programs and operations.”