President Donald Trump used his official Twitter account Wednesday to bash Nordstrom for “unfairly” dropping daughter Ivanka’s clothing line. “Terrible!”
First lady Melania Trump sued a British newspaper for $150 million this week, claiming that a retracted story could cost her an “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to launch a multimillion-dollar brand.
Looked at separately, they’re merely the latest eyebrow-raising moves in our new Trump world. But start connecting the dots and it’s a pattern of Trump and his family blatantly mixing business and government.
It’s a scandal waiting to happen.
After months of promising a plan to avoid conflicts of interest, Trump held a rare press conference the week before his inauguration to make a big deal of putting his business empire into a trust and removing himself from daily decisions.
But he refused to sell his assets and put them into a blind trust run by a completely independent party – what previous presidents have done, and the only real way for Trump to avoid conflicts of interest, according to ethics experts of both parties.
Now the New York Times reports that the trust is even less independent than previously thought. It is for the president’s “exclusive benefit,” and at any time Trump can revoke the authority of its trustees, his eldest son Don Jr. and the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer.
The potential conflicts are vast, with his business deals and his brand on hotels and skyscrapers around the globe. Closer to home, there’s the new Trump hotel just down the street from the White House. There’s Trump Tower in New York, where the Defense Department is seeking to rent space for staff and equipment – including the “nuclear football” – to support Trump when he’s living there.
We can’t count on the Republican Congress to monitor Trump’s conflicts. Democrats introduced a bill that would require the president to follow the same ethics laws that cover Congress and his Cabinet, but that’s not going anywhere. After meeting Trump on Tuesday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he’s unlikely to investigate Trump’s potential business conflicts.
So it’s up to the media and advocacy groups. There’s a lawsuit from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which argues that Trump is already violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids government officials from receiving any gifts from foreign governments. The watchdog group’s chairman offered Wednesday to help Nordstrom if it wants to sue Trump under a California law that forbids unfair business practices.
Asked about what Nordstrom calls a business decision, press secretary Sean Spicer said it was attacking Trump’s policies and he has “every right” to stand up for his family. Lawyers claimed that when Melania Trump’s lawsuit cited a “multi-year term during which Plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world,” it wasn’t talking about her husband’s presidency. That’s hard to believe.
Because Trump’s finances in general are such a black hole, the president and his family breed suspicion. Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco called this week for the FBI to look into whether he has business ties to the Putin regime.
“I want to know what the Russians have on Donald Trump,” she said.
The president could put all the rumors to rest and reassure the public that he’s working for them by creating a blind trust and disclosing financial information, including the release of his income tax returns.
There’s no indication he will. That’s a bad decision for him, for his family and most of all for the country he swears to serve and protect.