POLITICS
01/23/2017 09:08 pm ET | Updated Jan 24, 2017

Donald Trump's Company Is Receiving Direct Payments From Foreign Agents Right Now

It's not a possible conflict of interest. It's an actual conflict of interest.

WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump’s business receives direct payments from a registered foreign agent funded by the government of Abu Dhabi.

The U.S. headquarters for the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority is located on the 22nd floor of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue — just four floors below the president’s penthouse apartment. The authority, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, promotes tourism to Abu Dhabi, which is part of the United Arab Emirates. It has been registered as a foreign agent with the U.S. Department of Justice since 2012.

During his run for president, Trump claimed that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton “sold her office to corporations and foreign governments, betraying the public trust” by accepting donations from foreign governments to her family’s charity, which focused on delivering vaccines and low-cost HIV/AIDS drugs to people in poor countries. Now he’s benefiting from foreign government payments to his for-profit, privately owned business.

“Normally, the fact that a foreign agent — a registered foreign agent — was paying money to the President of the United States would create blaring headlines around the world, but so vast and scandalous are the President’s conflicts of interest that it hardly raises an eyebrow,” said Norm Eisen, the former top ethics adviser to President Barack Obama.

Trump has not sold his business interests, instead turning over management control to his sons, a move that ensures he will benefit any time any of his companies benefit.

Eisen, along with other ethics experts — including President George W. Bush’s ethics lawyer Richard Painter — and constitutional law professors, filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging that Trump is in violation of the Constitution for his acceptance of payments from foreign government entities. Under the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, the president is forbidden from receiving gifts or payments from foreign governments and foreign government-owned corporations.

“It does put a sharper point on it, the fact that they’re a foreign agent,” Eisen added. “All of these foreign governments who make payments to Trump’s businesses have a strong interest in the decision-making of the United States.”

The Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, like all foreign agents, is registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which is designed to help the federal government monitor foreign nations’ activities in the U.S. FARA requires foreign government-backed influence groups in the United States to register as foreign agents even if they are not lobbying the U.S. government directly.

Many foreign agents focus on promoting their country to the broader American public and media and not on lobbying the government. Based on its publicly available filings, this appears to be the case with the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority.

But during his run for president, Trump promised to sign a law banning “registered foreign lobbyists” from contributing to campaigns. FARA is the only law that registers foreign lobbyists.

And since at least 2012, his business has been taking a FARA registrant’s money.

Trump’s transition team initially included several advisers who were also foreign agents ― until they were dropped in the middle of November. One of them survived, however. Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), a registered foreign agent for Taiwan and a senior transition aide, helped broker the controversial phone call between Trump and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in December.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Abu Dhabi authority is not the only foreign government-backed organization paying Trump. The Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, which is owned by that nation’s government, is also a Trump Tower tenant. In addition, The New York Times reported that Trump owes money to the Bank of China, another foreign government-owned entity.

CORRECTION: This story previously said that Qatar Airways had headquarters at Trump Tower in Manhattan. The foreign government-owned airline was once located there, but has since moved.

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