In Multipolarity

By Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger, The Washington Post, Nov 12, 2016

The chant echoed through Donald Trump’s boisterous rallies leading up to Election Day: “Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp! Drain the swamp!”

Trump propaganda for 'draining the swamp' in Washington DC

Trump propaganda for ‘draining the swamp’ in Washington DC

“We are fighting for every citizen that believes that government should serve the people, not the donors and not the special interests,” the billionaire real estate developer promised exuberant supporters at his last campaign rally in Manchester, N.H.

But just days later, there is little evidence that the president-elect is seeking to restrain wealthy interests from having access to and influence in his administration.

It’s not just corporate lobbyists who are playing early, visible roles in the new power structure. Some of Trump’s biggest political donors are shaping the incoming administration, including Rebekah Mercer, a daughter of billionaire Robert Mercer, who is figuring prominently in behind-the-scenes discussions, according to people familiar with the transition.

Mercer is among four major donors appointed by Trump on Friday to a 16-person executive committee overseeing his transition. The others are campaign finance chairman Steven Mnuchin, New York financier Anthony Scaramucci and Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel. Trump’s administration could look a lot like the ‘swamp’ he vowed to drain Play Video2:56 During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly vowed to “drain the swamp” in D.C. and rid the federal government of political elites and lobbyists. But just days into his transition to president, Trump seems to be doing the opposite. (Deirdra O’Regan/The Washington Post)

Meanwhile, top campaign fundraisers and a raft of lobbyists tied to some of the country’s wealthiest industries have been put in charge of hiring and planning for specific federal agencies. They include J. Steven Hart, chairman of the law and lobbying shop Williams & Jensen; Michael McKenna, an energy company lobbyist who is overseeing planning for the Energy Department; and Dallas fundraiser Ray Washburne, was has been tapped to oversee the Commerce Department.

Billionaires who served as Trump’s policy advisers, such as Oklahoma oil executive Harold Hamm, are under consideration for Cabinet positions. And Trump is still working to fashion ethical guardrails that would wall him off from his sprawling real estate empire.

On Friday, the Trump Organization said it was focused on identifying how to “immediately transfer” management to his three oldest children — an arrangement government ethics experts said was fraught with conflicts, particularly since his children are also helping oversee the transition.

Meredith McGehee, who heads policy and strategy for Issue One, a bipartisan group that aims to reduce the influence of wealthy interests on politics, said there is “tremendous dissonance” between Trump’s rhetoric and early actions. “Much of what he said was, ‘I’m going to change the game,’?” she said. “Of all of his messages, that one I think clearly resonated the strongest. That’s going to be in­cred­ibly difficult when the people you bring in are the experts at making the game work for them.”

Trump aides and transition officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment about what role donors and lobbyists will play in the administration. How is President-elect Donald Trump likely to govern? Play Video2:36 The Post’s Marc Fisher explains how some of President-elect Donald Trump’s traits could inform his leadership style when he takes office.

In the few days since Trump’s surprise win, Washington’s lobbying industry — which largely eschewed his candidacy — has clamored for a spot in the incoming administration. The transition team, which is scrambling to make 4,000 political appointments in less than three months, has welcomed lobbyists’ involvement and expertise, according to people familiar with the operation.

“Every presidential candidate at one time or another runs against Washington,” said energy lobbyist Scott H. Segal. “But the last thing in the world any newly elected president wants to do is go into complicated issues with blinders on. As a result, they look to people as advisers and implementers that have a full understanding of the subject matter they are supposed to address.”

The courting started before Election Day, when trade association representatives and lobbyists were invited to transition policy developments sessions. Lobbyists were solicited to give as much as $5,000 to finance the transition, a fundraising effort that accelerated last week as the team seeks to collect about $3 million more to hit a $5 million budget, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, president of BGR Public Relations, said “all the Washington regulars” participated in the policy meetings, but he added that such access is no guarantee Trump will take his cues from K Street. “Just because a transition task force makes a recommendation doesn’t mean that Donald Trump will follow it,” he said.

Still, the prominence of established Washington figures and wealthy donors comes as a jarring contrast to Trump’s unequivocal rhetoric on the campaign trail, when he decried inside-the-Beltway denizens as “corrupt.”

Ari Fleischer, who served as President George W. Bush’s press secretary, said the policy decisions Trump makes in the early days will directly reflect on his credibility. “The transition affords him an opportunity to show he’s going to govern consistent with the promises he made,” Fleischer said. “If you are a reformer and you genuinely want to change the system, you ban people who you say you’re going to ban. Anything less starts to represent compromise.”

Michael Toner, who served as general counsel to the Bush-Cheney transition in 2000, said the 10 weeks after the election is a key period for establishing broad ethical policies that will govern the incoming administration.

On the campaign trail, Trump promised to take several specific actions regarding lobbyists, including prohibiting White House and congressional officials from lobbying for five years after they leave government service. But his transition team has already rolled back some of the restrictions on lobbyists that Barack Obama established for his transition operation in 2008. Among the rules that have been discarded: a ban on lobbyists from contributing financially to the transition and a prohibition on lobbyists working on the transition from overseeing any fields of policy on which they had lobbied in the previous year.

Several prominent lobbyists are overseeing the staffing of departments in which their clients have a direct interest, including energy adviser Michael Catanzaro, a partner at the lobbying firm CGCN, who has represented oil services giant Halliburton, Koch Industries and the  petrochemical and refining association American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.

The Trump team is putting some limits on lobbyists, according to a person with knowledge of the transition. As in past years, those working on the transition have agreed not to lobby any federal agencies they helped staff for a certain period of time. However, the length of the ban is unclear. Obama prohibited such lobbying for a year.

It also remains unclear whether the new president will dole out plum appointments — such as ambassadorships — to major donors, a practice embraced by his predecessors, including Obama and Bush.

While Trump has repeatedly proclaimed his independence from wealthy donors, at least 330 supporters contributed $100,000 or more to his campaign, the Republican National Committee and pro-Trump super PACs, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal campaign finance reports.

Trump’s biggest backers gave millions, including casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam ($11.2 million); Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus ($7.6 million); wrestling magnate Linda McMahon ($6 million); Robert Mercer ($3.4 million); and poultry executive Ronald Cameron and his wife, Nina ($2.9 million).

Together, the top 100 donors donated $82 million to support his bid, with strong support from the finance, gambling and real estate industries.

Another major uncertainty: how Trump will wall himself off from his private company, which has interests around the globe. On disclosure filings, Trump listed involvements in more than 500 companies, some in countries where the United States has sensitive diplomatic or financial relationships, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and China. Trump companies are partially indebted to banks in Germany and China.

On Friday, Amanda Miller, vice president of marketing for the Trump Organization, said in a statement that the company was still “vetting various structures with the goal of the immediate transfer of management of The Trump Organization and its portfolio of businesses to Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump along with a team of highly skilled executives.”

“This is a top priority at the Organization and the structure that is ultimately selected will comply with all applicable rules and regulations,” she added.

But ethics experts said putting Trump’s children in charge of his empire would not distance the new president from his assets or avoid conflicts of interest. “In a real blind trust, an independent trustee who has no connection to the beneficiary is appointed to manage the assets in the trust, and that trustee is supposed to be the only one who knows what is being done in the blind trust,” said Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a government watchdog group.

Campaign finance lawyer Trevor Potter, who drafted ethics agreements for 2008 GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other officials, said Trump’s business interests pose unprecedented conflicts of interest. “Never in history have we had someone become president with the range of business interests — domestic and international — that Trump has,” he said.


Trump’s conflicts of interest are without precedent in American presidential history

By Drew Harwell, The Washington Post, Nov 9, 2016

Donald Trump’s stunning victory will force the United States to confront a series of never-before-seen entanglements over the president’s private business, debts and rocky financial history.

No laws prohibit Trump from involving himself in his private company, the Trump Organization, while serving in the highest public office. And Trump has so far resisted the long-standing presidential tradition of giving his holdings to an independent manager, stoking worries of conflicts of interests over his businesses’ many financial and foreign ties.

Trump’s business empire of hotels, golf courses and licensing deals in the U.S. and abroad, some of which have benefited from tax breaks or government subsidies, represents an ethical minefield for a commander in chief who would oversee the U.S. budget and foreign relations, some analysts say.

President-elect Trump will likely take the witness stand in a federal civil trial starting later this month, a first for an incoming president, over claims of fraud at his Trump University real-estate seminar series.

Other Trump companies are partially indebted to banks in Germany and China. On financial disclosure filings, Trump listed involvements in more than 500 companies, some in countries where the U.S. has sensitive diplomatic or financial relationships, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and China.

Those entanglements are unprecedented, unavoidable and “troubling,” Ken Gross, a former elections enforcement official and lawyer who has advised presidential candidates from both parties, said after the election. “He has investments in businesses in unfriendly countries and the businesses are often tied to those unfriendly governments.”

“The obvious solution is to sell those interests,” Gross said, but many holdings may not be easily sold, or are still tied to debts personally guaranteed by Trump. “Removing himself or his family from the perception of self or family interest may prove difficult,” he added.

Ethics officials urged Trump during his campaign to pledge he would sell his businesses or cede them to an independent authority. Many modern presidents — including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and both Bushes — went beyond what was required and placed their assets in “blind trusts,” run by third-party managers who keep complete control.

But Trump has refused to make such a pledge, saying only that he would give companies to his children and executives to run. Attorneys said that would put little distance between a President Trump and the businesses he spent a lifetime grooming and profiting from.

“Now we are faced with the possibility that a son or daughter of the president will turn up in Moscow or Uzbekistan or somewhere else negotiating a deal on a new property that will bear the name of the president, and the full knowledge that the president really is an owner of the company,” Trevor Potter, a former Federal Election Commission chairman and general counsel for George H.W. Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said in September. “That presents problems of a dimension we have never seen before. ”

Trump’s presidential campaign funneled vast sums of money to private Trump companies, and he has celebrated that his companies could reap the benefits of his rise to public power. In June, he tweeted about Trump University, “After the litigation is disposed of and the case won, I have instructed my execs to open Trump U(?), so much interest in it! I will be pres.”

Those business conflicts will bind the president-elect even before his inauguration. Trump could be called to testify in the Trump University trial, part of a class-action lawsuit brought by former students who said they were misled about the seminars’ offerings. That case is scheduled for the San Diego courtroom of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who Trump accused of bias and falsely claimed was Mexican.

The government investigators scrutinizing Trump’s businesses and allies, analysts said, could be influenced by the fact that their target could be their boss. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was named in a corruption investigation by a Ukrainian agency working with the FBI. New York state has also ordered Trump’s charitable foundation to stop fundraising because it lacked the proper authorization.

Members of Congress must recuse themselves from government dealings touching on their own financial interests, according to strict regulations in the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, enacted after Watergate. Presidents, however, were made exempt from those rules on the belief they could further complicate the wide-ranging job.

In the run-up to the election, Trump said he would take little interest in his businesses if he won the Oval Office. “If I become president, I couldn’t care less about my company. It’s peanuts,” he said during a January debate. “Run the company, kids. Have a good time.”

The Trump Organization’s executive vice president, Alan Garten, echoed that sentiment to The Post in September. “His focus is going to be solely on improving the country,” Garten said. “The business is not going to be a factor or an interest at that point.”

Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. has insisted that Trump’s holdings would go into a blind trust managed by him and his siblings Eric and Ivanka Trump.“We’re not going to be involved in government,” Trump Jr. said in September on “Good Morning America.” “He wants nothing to do with [the company]. He wants to fix this country.”

When pressed over the potential of Trump and his family still discussing the business while Trump is in office, Trump Jr. said, “We’re not going to discuss those things. … Trust me. As you know, it’s a very full-time job. He doesn’t need to worry about the business. The business is in good hands. He trusts us with that, 100 percent.”

Jan Witold Baran, a partner at Washington law firm Wiley Rein, said Trump will have to address concerns over government decisions that would affect his businesses, no matter who’s running them. Giving his companies to his children “doesn’t necessarily remove him from those issues for political purposes,” Baran said. “His name is on the business, for Pete’s sake.”

During his victory speech early Wednesday, Trump took pride in his business record and connected it to his ability to lead the country, saying, “I’ve spent my entire life in business, looking at the untapped potential in projects and in people all over the world.”

Trump business and campaign officials did not respond to requests for comment on any timeline or details for the next steps Trump would take with his business empire.

Trump’s company oversees eight U.S. hotels in Chicago, Honolulu, New York City, Las Vegas, and its newest, in Washington, opened a few blocks from the White House on the likely route of Trump’s inauguration parade.

At the new Trump International Hotel in Washington’s Old Post Office Pavilion, which his company leases from the federal government, Trump now effectively serves as both the landlord and the tenant. It’s unclear how talks over lease payments or building maintenance would be conducted.

The Trump Organization is also set to receive federal tax credits to preserve the project’s historic nature, a program his administration will now oversee. Trump has invested an estimated $42 million of his own company’s money in the project.

Similar situations could emerge as federal housing officials — future employees of President Trump — will now be charged with enforcing housing rules, including at Trump properties in New York, Chicago and elsewhere.

Free-speech advocates have decried deals that federal officials made in providing the Trump Organization control over parts of Pennsylvania Avenue around the hotel. President Trump is poised to oversee those agreements with his company as well.

Trump real-estate holdings and other companies owe hundreds of millions of dollars to domestic and foreign banks, which ethics advisers say marks a wide vulnerability for Trump that could tilt his judgment or independence. At one Manhattan office tower co-owned by Trump, the lenders include the Bank of China, a massive financial institution in the Asian superpower Trump has repeatedly attacked.

The full extent of Trump’s business relationships around the world remains unknown. He has refused to release his tax returns, which would outline key information about his financial holdings and foreign accounts.

The biggest lender to Trump’s business empire is Deutsche Bank, the German financial giant now negotiating a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice to settle claims related to disastrous “toxic” mortgages the bank issued amid the housing crisis.

Justice officials said in September they would seek a $14 billion fine from the bank, a vast sum that sparked worries over the bank’s financial survival. But the final fine has not been publicly made official, and government-ethics experts have voiced concern that a President Trump could potentially influence the negotiations.

Garten, the Trump company executive, told The Post in September that he did “not see the conflict” in Trump taking control of a government pushing to penalize one of Trump’s most important financial allies.

The bank has undergone criminal investigations by government authorities in the U.S. and other countries. After one probe last year, the bank agreed to pay $2.5 billion in fines to resolve a scandal over its alleged rigging of influential loan interest rates. In June, the International Monetary Fund said the bank was one of the biggest “contributors to systemic risks in the global banking system.”

Trump’s companies signed for roughly $360 million in Deutsche loans tied to the Trump National Doral golf club in south Florida, the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, and the new Trump International Hotel in Washington. Those loans are set to come due by 2024, which could parallel the end of a possible Trump presidency’s second term.

Trump’s election will again spotlight the many connections between his businesses and Russia, a long-standing antagonist of the United States. Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and voiced hopes he could develop new real-estate businesses there.

Strong evidence suggests Trump’s businesses have received significant funding from Russian investors. Donald Trump Jr. said at a New York real estate conference in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” and that “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

The election of Trump, who campaigned against trade and immigration, sent shock waves through financial markets across the world early Wednesday. Global stocks and the dollar plunged and, though some markets have recovered early losses, analysts have pointed to growing uncertainty among companies with foreign dealings.

“The U.S. economy and financial markets suddenly find themselves in no man’s land,” said Mark Hamrick, Bankrate.com’s senior economic analyst. “The way forward for large companies, for example, doing business across borders, as well as any size firm reliant upon an immigrant workforce, is difficult to chart from here.”

How Trump’s company could evolve remains a mystery. The election has transformed Trump from a noted real-estate developer and reality-show host into one of the world’s most famous men, with a fanbase energized by his rhetoric and showmanship and, perhaps, willing to follow him beyond the vote.

But his most energized audience — of, largely, middle-American and blue-collar voters — is also a class his businesses have long ignored, through high-class offerings such as $800 hotel rooms and $30,000 golf-club memberships.

“He’s built this enormously resonant brand with what I’ll affectionately call angry white males. It’s not only a big market, but it appears to be growing,” said Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing who teaches brand strategy at New York University, on Tuesday. “But his current product offering caters to affluent, fortunate and relatively happy people. And as a general rule, the affluent are mildly horrified by the current trajectory of the Trump brand.”

Trump’s brand may remain anathema to some potential customers who were turned off by his campaign despite his victory.

Trump International Hotel and Tower, a 57-story tower that opened in Toronto four years ago, was placed into receivership recently when it failed to hit financial projections, according to court filings. Trump operates that property but does not own it. However, Symon Zucker, an attorney for the project’s owner, said Tuesday that a Trump victory wasn’t “going to affect it positively.”

“All the same people who weren’t going to come to it before aren’t going to come to it now,” he said.

Further related news:
Trump’s unusual conflict: Millions in debts to German bank now facing federal fines, by Drew Harwell Sept 30, 2016

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