WASHINGTON ― After Donald Trump argued Tuesday that “the president can’t have a conflict of interest” when it comes to his businesses, a group of Democrats is pleading with the federal government’s independent watchdogs to keep the future Trump administration honest.
“President-elect Donald Trump will begin his term with more potential conflicts of interest and less transparency about his personal finances than any president in recent history,” wrote Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and other members of the House Financial Services Committee in a letter to eight inspectors general, the investigative officials empowered to fight waste, fraud and abuse.
“Trump will have ample opportunity to make and influence policy decisions that benefit his personal business and financial interests,” they added.
Reports have already documented Trump’s numerous potential conflicts of interest, and his pursuit of business interests during his transition, including pressing officials in Argentina, the United Kingdom and India.
He disparaged complaints about that activity by tweeting that “only the crooked media makes this a big deal!”
Also Tuesday, reports surfaced that his nonprofit Trump Foundation engages in legally prohibited self-dealing.
To insulate himself from conflicts of interests, Trump has said he is handing off responsibility for his far-flung business empire to a “blind trust” run by his children, although children are generally not allowed to perform such functions and his daughter Ivanka remains on the transition team, attending meetings with foreign leaders.
The House Democrats said they were especially concerned about what is perhaps one of Trump’s largest financial interests ― his ongoing ties to Deutsche Bank.
“Trump has turned to Deutsche repeatedly to finance his real estate investments. Deutsche has been the only major Wall Street bank to continue to lend to Donald Trump and his entities in the wake of six Trump-business bankruptcies,” their letter said, pointing to some $2.5 billion that Deutsche Bank has loaned Trump over the years.
And, they noted, Trump’s businesses currently owe “Deutsche Bank nearly $360 million in outstanding principal, including $125 million for his Florida golf course, Trump National Doral; up to $69 million for his Chicago high-rise, Trump International Hotel and Tower; and a $170 million line of credit used to fund the development of his new hotel in Washington, D.C.”
Deutsche Bank has repeatedly been hit by federal probes, including one that ended with a $1.9 billion settlement with the Federal Housing Finance Agency and a $1.6 billion settlement with the Department of Justice for manipulating interest rates. The bank is now in talks with the Justice Department over a $14 billion settlement for its role in the mortgage meltdown.
“This settlement could endanger Deutsche Bank’s financial health, which could strain the bank’s ability to lend future capital to Trump’s real estate projects and, thus, threaten his business interests,” the letter said, noting Trump will appoint the people who oversee that settlement.
Trump may have insisted correctly that there is no conflict of interest for presidents, but it is unlikely Americans want to see the president using his office to get even richer.
There is also a provision of the Constitution known as the Emoluments Clause that bars presidents from accepting anything of value from foreign governments unless Congress allows it.
Since Republicans will soon control Congress and the White House, the Democrats are hoping the inspectors general will root out wrongdoing.
“President-elect Trump’s questionable ethical principles may influence who he appoints to lead our federal agencies and, ultimately, influence the culture within these federal agencies,” the Democrats wrote. “As a result, the work that you perform will become especially integral to upholding the ethical standards of the Executive branch.”
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