POLITICS

Top Congressional Watchdog Uninterested In Trump's Conflicts Of Interest Before He Takes Office

Rep. Jason Chaffetz wants to give Trump "some time."

11/29/2016 11:01 pm ET
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House oversight committee, doesn't think now's the time to look into the conflicts of interest presented by the business empire of President-elect Donald Trump. "He's not a federal employee yet," he said. 

WASHINGTON ― Donald Trump’s election to the presidency has raised serious questions about a web of potential conflicts of interest. Democrats are already calling for congressional probes. But there’s one Republican who seems unconcerned: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

Chaffetz told The Huffington Post Tuesday night that Trump hadn’t even been sworn in yet. “So give him some time to organize, get their staff and their counsel all situated,” he said.

Chaffetz added: “It’s sort of ridiculous to go after him when his financial disclosure is already online.”

That financial disclosure, which Trump himself has said is inadequate in evaluating his wealth, offers broad ranges for a politician’s assets, and allows Trump to roughly approximate his net worth, which he pegs at more than $10 billion. (Forbes says it’s closer to $3.7 billion.)

The real issue, however, isn’t what Trump is worth. It’s the businesses that come in contact with the government and can be used by foreign governments to influence him.

Take, for instance, Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. Foreign diplomats are already saying they’ll book rooms in order to curry favor with the incoming president, and, perhaps more troublingly, Trump is about to violate the lease for the hotel, which is in the historic Old Post Office. The lease states that no elected official “shall be admitted to any share or part of this lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.”

As soon as Trump takes office on Jan. 20, he will be in violation of that agreement, but the agency tasked with enforcing the lease, the General Services Administration, will report to Trump. He’ll even appoint the next administrator of the GSA.

When HuffPost raised this conflict of interest with Chaffetz on Tuesday night, he shrugged it off as nothing out of the ordinary.

“I think that’s true of every president,” Chaffetz said. “That’s not a unique situation.”

When HuffPost disagreed ― again, presidents are not normally renting out government properties ― Chaffetz doubled down. 

“Yes, because what you find is that most presidents, including, and I think Vice President Biden, gets a check from the Secret Service,” Chaffetz said.

“Joe Biden and others,” he continued, trailing off. “So we’ll examine those issues. We’ll be vigorous in our oversight.”

Chaffetz seems to be referring to payments from the Secret Service when agents are housed on the property of their protectees, and Chaffetz seems to believe those contracts are precedent for Trump’s arrangement with his hotel in Washington.

The ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), totally disagrees.

“They’re clearly unprecedented,” Cummings told HuffPost Tuesday night. “I’m really trying to help Trump avoid a phenomenal minefield.”

Cummings said he had asked Chaffetz for an investigation into Trump’s conflicts of interest because the president-elect should “clear up” these situations before he takes office. “The Trump Hotel at the Post Office is a perfect example,” Cummings said.

Presented with Chaffetz’s comment that the Trump Hotel issue was akin to the Secret Service paying rent, Cummings just shook his head.

“He’s operating 111 companies in 18 countries,” he said. “Come on!”

Trump also owes a foreign bank over $300 million, and construction on one of his foreign properties might have been expedited after he talked with the president of that nation. 

Cummings did say he thought the pressure for Chaffetz to investigate Trump would become untenable, and that the committee would eventually hold a hearing.

That would be consistent with Chaffetz’s own statements, in fact.

When HuffPost suggested that he seemed unconcerned, Chaffetz disagreed. “I said we’re going to look into them. He’s not a federal employee yet, so,” Chaffetz said.

Asked what “look into” these issues meant ― a hearing, a formal probe? ― Chaffetz said that wasn’t “defined yet.”

“We’ll see what the issues are,” he said.

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