Categories for Conflict of Interest

13,460. 2/15/2018

CONFLICT OF INTERESTS/ETHICS/IRS/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT/TRUMP FAMILY/MELANIA: “President Trump’s inaugural committee paid nearly $26 million to an event planning firm started by an adviser to the first lady, Melania Trump, while donating $5 million — less than expected — to charity, according to tax filings released on Thursday [2-15-18].
The nonprofit group that oversaw Mr. Trump’s inauguration and surrounding events in January 2017, the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee, had been under pressure from liberal government watchdog groups to reveal how it spent the record $107 million it had raised from wealthy donors and corporations. Its chairman, Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a longtime friend of Mr. Trump, had pledged that the committee would be thrifty with its spending, and would donate leftover funds to charity.
But the mandatory tax return it filed with the Internal Revenue Service indicates that the group’s charitable donations included only an already publicized $3 million for hurricane relief, plus a total of $1.75 million to groups involved in decorating and maintaining the White House and the vice president’s residence. The 116-page filing indicates that the overwhelming majority of the funds went toward expenses related to the inauguration, with the biggest share — nearly $51 million — split roughly evenly between two companies.
One of the companies, WIS Media Partners of Marina del Rey, California, was created by a longtime friend of Mrs. Trump, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, according to a person familiar with the firm. Records show that the firm was created in December 2016, but otherwise there is very little information available about it. Ms. Winston Wolkoff made her name planning Manhattan society galas and has subsequently been brought on as a senior adviser to the first lady’s official government office.”

-Maggie Haberman and Kenneth P. Vogel, “Trump’s Inaugural Committee Paid $26 Million to Firm of First Lady’s Adviser,” The New York Times online, Feb. 15, 2018

13,371. 2/12/2018

CONFLICT OF INTERESTS/ETHICS/NATIONAL SECURITY/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT/TRUMP FAMILY: “One week after the 2016 election, President-elect Donald J. Trump tweeted that he was ‘not trying to get *top level security clearance* for my children,’ calling such claims ‘a typically false news story.’ But he said nothing at the time about his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Nearly 15 months later, Mr. Kushner, now a senior White House adviser with a broad foreign policy portfolio that requires access to some of the intelligence community’s most closely guarded secrets, still has not succeeded in securing a permanent security clearance. The delay has left him operating on an interim status that allows him access to classified material while the F.B.I. continues working on his full background investigation.
Mr. Kushner’s status was similar to the status of others in the White House, including Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned last week after his two former wives alleged that he physically and emotionally abused them during their marriages.
People familiar with the security clearance process in Mr. Trump’s White House said it was widely acknowledged among senior aides that raising questions about unresolved vetting issues in a staff member’s background would implicitly reflect on Mr. Kushner’s status, as well — a situation made more awkward because Mr. Kushner is married to the president’s daughter Ivanka…
Questions about the security clearance process at the White House have become more urgent after the scandal surrounding Mr. Porter and the still-unanswered questions about when the president’s aides knew about the abuse allegations against him. On Monday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, again refused to provide a detailed explanation…
Ms. Sanders referred questions about the security clearance process — and why Mr. Porter was allowed to continue working at the White House for so long despite the abuse accusations — to the F.B.I. and the intelligence agencies, saying they are the ones that handle the background checks and the granting of permission to handle classified information… The F.B.I. had no comment on Monday.”

-Michael D. Shear and Matthew Rosenberg, “Accusations Against Aide Renew Attention on White House Security Clearances,” The New York Times online, Feb. 12, 2018

13,286. 2/7/2018

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/LABOR/NOMINATIONS/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT: “President Donald Trump’s nominee to chair the independent agency tasked with adjudicating mine safety cases is a lawyer who has defended coal companies with safety violations. Marco Rajkovich was nominated in January to chair the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent board responsible for deciding cases under the Mine Act of 1977.
Prior to his nomination, Rajkovich worked in Kentucky representing coal companies and argued cases before the commission he is nominated to serve on, according to his online biography. A CNN review has shed new light on Rajkovich’s work on behalf of the mining industry, including his representation of a company accused violating code by trying to thwart federal inspections… Rajkovich has not responded to CNN’s requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the Labor Department declined to answer questions about Rajkovich, saying those ‘should be directed to him.’ Rajkovich’s nomination is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate labor committee.”

-Sara Ganim and Gregory Wallace, “Trump nominee to oversee mine safety cases is lawyer who defended coal companies,” CNN Politics, CNN.com, Feb. 7, 2018 07:03pm

13,080. 1/30/2018

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/DEMS/INFRASTRUCTURE/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT: “President Donald Trump’s critics are already lining up to undercut his infrastructure proposal — the purported bipartisan centerpiece of Tuesday’s [1-30-18] State of the Union speech — as a giveaway to his well-connected friends and a rollback of popular environmental protections.
Even before the president formally calls for a deal to help rebuild the nation’s aging infrastructure, a watchdog nonprofit stocked with former Democratic aides is ramping up a campaign to discredit his plan as ‘a blueprint for cronyism.’
The group Democracy Forward will release a report Tuesday that alleges potential conflicts of interest on Trump’s infrastructure advisory council, which was disbanded last summer. The board was led by two of Trump’s longtime New York developer allies, Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth, who were tapped to help shape his plan to shore up roads and bridges by leveraging public money with private investors’ involvement.
Among the potential minefields the group singles out are lobbying by LeFrak’s company against flood risk regulations that the Trump administration axed last year and the prospect that Roth’s company would benefit from a public-private partnership in the works to build a new Penn Station in New York City.
A spokesman for Roth said he ‘has not been commenting on all matters related to the administration.’ LeFrak’s company did not return a request for comment.”

-Elana Schor, “Trump critics seize on developer ties to infrastructure plan,” Politico, Jan. 30, 2018 05:01am

12,751. 1/16/2018

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/ETHICS/TRUMP BUSINESS: “A new report documents 64 politicians, interest groups, corporations and entities affiliated with foreign governments that used Trump-branded properties in the past year.
The report released Tuesday [1-16-18] by Public Citizen, a liberal-funded watchdog group based in Washington, comes about a year after President Donald Trump stepped away from day-to-day management of the Trump Organization. Mr. Trump retained financial interest in the company through a trust and can draw money from it at any time.
Government-ethics specialists say that because the president continues to profit from his business interests, it is important to catalog who is spending money at them. The Trump Organization, now led by Mr. Trump’s sons Don Jr. and Eric Trump, is a global real-estate development, property management and licensing company.
A White House spokeswoman declined to comment and referred questions to the Trump Organization. The company didn’t reply to requests for comment. Mr. Trump and White House officials have previously disputed that his financial ties to his company posed any ethics challenges.
A group of lawyers including several ex-White House ethics counselors sued the president alleging he is violating a clause of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits officials from accepting payments from foreign and domestic governments… The Trump Organization said it would transfer profits earned from foreign government payments by guests at his hotel properties to the U.S. Treasury, but the company has declined to provide information about how it tracks that money. A spokeswoman for the Trump Hotel Group said last month that the company expects to have information to share at the end of February.”

-Julie Bykowicz, “Checking In: Report Lists Dozens of Groups That Used Trump Properties,” The Wall Street Journal online, Jan. 16, 2018 12:01am

12,678. 1/11/2018

BETSY DEVOS/CONFLICT OF INTERESTS/EDUCATION: “A company that once had financial ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was one of two firms selected Thursday [1-11-18] by the U.S. Department of Education to help the agency collect overdue student loans. The deal could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The decision to award contracts to Windham Professionals and Performant Financial Corp. — the company in which DeVos invested before becoming secretary — arrives a month after a federal judge ordered the department to complete its selection of a loan collector to put an end to a messy court battle. Windham and Performant beat out nearly 40 other bidders for contracts valued at up to $400 million, but their win may be short-lived if the losing companies fight the decision…
The newly awarded contracts are supposed to resolve the litigation, but the selection of at least one of the companies could raise eyebrows.
Performant is linked to LMF WF Portfolio, a limited liability corporation that once counted DeVos as an investor. LMF is one of several firms involved in providing Performant with a $147 million loan in 2012, according to regulatory filings. DeVos was required to divest from LMF within 90 days of her confirmation as secretary, but at the time of her appointment, Democrats said they were uneasy about the influence she could still wield over companies with which she has had a relationship.
Education Department spokesman Nathan Bailey said Thursday that DeVos had ‘no knowledge, let alone involvement’ in the new debt collection contract. Richard Zubek, who heads investor relations at Performant, said in an email that the company ‘has never had any direct or indirect contact with Secretary DeVos or anyone related to Mrs. DeVos.’ “

-Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, “Grade Point Education Dept. awards debt collection contract to company with ties to DeVos,” The Washington Post online, Jan. 11, 2018 09:16pm

12,558. 1/7/2018

CONFLICT OF INTERESTS/ETHICS/ISRAEL/TRUMP FAMILY/JARED KUSHNER: “Last May, Jared Kushner accompanied President Trump, his father-in-law, on the pair’s first diplomatic trip to Israel, part of Mr. Kushner’s White House assignment to achieve peace in the Middle East.
Shortly before, his family real estate company received a roughly $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim, an insurer that is one of Israel’s largest financial institutions, according to a Menora executive.
The deal, which was not made public, pumped significant new equity into 10 Maryland apartment complexes controlled by Mr. Kushner’s firm. While Mr. Kushner has sold parts of his business since taking a White House job last year, he still has stakes in most of the family empire — including the apartment buildings in and around Baltimore.
The Menora transaction is the latest financial arrangement that has surfaced between Mr. Kushner’s family business and Israeli partners, including one of the country’s wealthiest families and a large Israeli bank that is the subject of a United States criminal investigation.”

-Jesse Drucker, “Kushner’s Financial Ties to Israel Deepen Even With Mideast Diplomatic Role,” The New York Times online, Jan. 7, 2018

11,704. 11/22/2017

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/ETHICS/TRUMP BUSINESS: “Bottles from Trump Winery have been on sale at a gift shop in Shenandoah National Park, located about two hours from Washington, D.C.
Ethics watchdogs have slammed President Donald Trump for apparent conflicts of interest, particularly opportunities to make money from his public position. But the park and store management say that’s not the case here.
The store is in the national park but is managed by a private company, as many are, said National Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum…
Hong said the Shenandoah shops have in the past carried wines from Kluge Estate, which Trump bought in 2011 and rebranded.
Federal records show Delaware North operates facilities at national parks from the Grand Canyon to Yosemite. The company won a 10-year contract in 2013 to manage retail shops, restaurants, lodging, horseback riding, and shower and laundry facilities at Shenandoah.
The Trump Winery offering at Shenandoah came to light when an environmental trade publication, E&E News, was tipped off by an employee at the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit that has protested and sued the Trump administration over its handling of the environment.”

-Gregory Wallace, “National Park Service doesn’t object to sale of Trump wine at park,” CNN Politics, CNN.com, Nov. 22, 2017 12:56pm

11,538. 11/14/2017

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/JEFF SESSIONS/JUSTICE DEPARTMENT/LEGAL/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT: “U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, during questioning at a congressional hearing Tuesday [11-14-17], sidestepped questions about whether President Trump’s vitriol toward CNN was factoring into the Department of Justice’s review of a mammoth media merger.
AT&T is trying to buy Time Warner Inc. — which owns CNN, HBO, TNT, Cartoon Network and the Warner Bros. movie and television studio — for $85 billion. Justice Department antitrust division officials met last week with AT&T executives to discuss their concerns about the merger…
During Tuesday’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) pointedly asked Sessions whether the White House has gotten involved in what is supposed to be a legal review of the merits of AT&T’s proposed merger…
The Justice Department’s antitrust division, now led by Makan Delrahim, has suggested that it might sue to block the merger. Sources familiar with the matter have told various news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, that the Justice Department has suggested that AT&T sell either Turner Broadcasting, which includes CNN, or its El Segundo-based satellite TV unit, DirecTV, to win government approval of the deal…
Johnson asked whether anyone at the White House had contacted Sessions or other Justice Department officials in an effort to influence their decision on the AT&T-Time Warner deal. Sessions did not directly answer the question.”

-Meg James, “Jeff Sessions ducks questions about White House influence on AT&T-Time Warner merger,” The Los Angeles Times online, Nov. 14, 2017 11:10am

11,525. 11/13/2017

CONFLICT OF INTERESTS/JUSTICE DEPARTMENT/NOMINATIONS/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT: “One of President Trump’s most controversial judicial nominees did not disclose on publicly available congressional documents that he is married to a senior lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office.
The nominee, Brett J. Talley, is awaiting a Senate confirmation vote that could come as early as Monday [11-13-17] to become a federal district judge in Alabama. He is married to Ann Donaldson, the chief of staff to the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II.
Mr. Talley was asked on his publicly released Senate questionnaire to identify family members and others who are ‘likely to present potential conflicts of interest.’ He did not mention his wife.
District judges often provide the first ruling when laws are called into question, decisions that can put them at odds with the White House and its lawyers. Last month, for example, judges in Hawaii and Maryland temporarily blocked Mr. Trump’s travel ban.”

-Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt, “Trump Judicial Pick Did Not Disclose He Is Married to a White House Lawyer,” The New York Times online, Nov. 13, 2017

11,377. 11/6/2017

COMMERCE/CONFLICT OF INTEREST/RUSSIA/WILBUR ROSS: “The commerce secretary, Wilbur L. Ross Jr., indicated on Monday [11-6-17] that he would probably sell his stake in a shipping company with business ties to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s inner circle, amid fallout from publication of a vast leak of offshore files that documented the connection.
Mr. Ross retained an investment in the shipper, Navigator Holdings, even as he sold off numerous other holdings to join the Trump administration, information that did not emerge publicly during his confirmation proceedings.
Among Navigator’s biggest clients is Sibur, a Russian energy firm whose owners include Gennady Timchenko, an oligarch who is a friend of Mr. Putin’s and is subject to United States sanctions, and Kirill Shamalov, Mr. Putin’s son-in-law. Navigator earns millions of dollars a year chartering ships to Sibur.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Mr. Ross said that he would ‘probably not’ keep his Navigator investment, but that it did not pose a conflict of interest. He also defended Navigator’s business dealings with Sibur, saying there was ‘nothing whatsoever wrong with it.’ “

-Mike McIntire, “Commerce Secretary May Sell Investment in Russia-Linked Company,” The New York Times online, Nov. 6, 2017

11,049. 10/24/2017

CONFLICT OF INTERESTS/ETHICS/INTERIOR/RYAN ZINKE: “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has directed millions of dollars in political contributions since 2014 to a network of Washington operatives that prominent conservatives have accused of profiting by misleading donors…
The details about Zinke’s fundraising and spending practices have not been previously reported, nor has his years-long relationship with Mackenzie’s Virgin Islands Republican Party, a group that some Republicans in the Caribbean island chain have accused of misrepresenting itself to donors. POLITICO’s analysis of Federal Election Commission filings, plus interviews with campaign finance lawyers and people familiar with the Virgin Islands group’s fundraising, offer a deeper picture of the political activism of the retired Navy SEAL who serves in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.
None of the records indicate that Zinke violated the law or received any direct compensation from his association with Mackenzie, the Virgin Islands PAC or its consultants. But one campaign finance expert said the information shows that Zinke was not behaving like a typical politician.
An Interior Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the assistance Zinke has offered to the Virgin Islands group or his use of political consultants. Mackenzie declined to be interviewed, and officials from the Virgin Islands organization — also known as VIGOP — did not respond to requests for comment.
Zinke is separately facing investigations by Interior’s internal watchdog and the independent Office of Special Counsel over his habit of mixing politics and official business.”

-Ben Lefebvre and Nick Juliano, “Zinke funneled millions to questionable PACs,” Politico, Oct. 24, 2017 05:04am

10,941. 10/18/2017

CONFLICT OF INTERESTS/LEGAL/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT/TRUMP BUSINESS: ” ‘Donald J. Trump, Defendant’ has graced reams of court papers through decades of dealmaking and New York real estate litigiousness.
‘Donald J. Trump, in his official capacity as President of the United States of America’ remains a relatively new phenomenon.
But inside a federal courtroom on Wednesday in Lower Manhattan, with the full force of the Justice Department defending him, Mr. Trump will be the focus, in absentia, of a remarkable legal drama: Is a sitting president — disinclined to relinquish his gilded empire before taking office — violating the Constitution by continuing to own and profit from his businesses?
At issue is a lawsuit filed this year in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by a legal watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW. It has argued that Mr. Trump is violating a constitutional provision that a president may not accept any economic benefit from foreign governments or the United States government beyond a salary.
In Washington, the Trump International Hotel, within walking distance of the White House, has become a symbol of the president’s tangle of business interests, subsisting in plain view.”

-Matt Flegenheimer, “Is Trump Violating the Constitution? In Absentia, He Defends Himself in Court,” The New York Times online, Oct. 18, 2017

10,808. 10/12/2017

CONFLICT OF INTERESTS/NOMINATIONS/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT: “As a top executive at AccuWeather, Barry Myers has pushed for limits on the kinds of products that the National Weather Service offers to the public, saying they offered unfair competition to his industry.
Now, President Donald Trump’s nomination of Myers to lead the weather service’s parent agency could allow him to make those kinds of restrictions mandatory — to the benefit of his family-run forecasting company.
The AccuWeather CEO’s nomination to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is stirring criticism from people who worry he would hobble the weather service, which provoked an industry backlash more than a decade ago by making hour-by-hour forecasts, cellphone alerts and other consumer-friendly data widely available online. A bill that Myers supported 12 years ago, sponsored by then-Sen. Rick Santorum, would have prohibited the agency from competing with private providers in most circumstances.
Myers, who has served as a NOAA adviser, has more recently spoken of cooperation with the agency, including industry’s advocacy for Congress to fund its budget. But his critics expressed misgivings nonetheless…
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) agreed, calling Myers a ‘questionable’ choice.”

-Andrew Restuccia, “Trump’s pick for NOAA chief causes a storm,” Politico, Oct. 12, 2017 07:59pm

10,633. 10/5/2017

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/ETHICS/INTERIOR/RYAN ZINKE: “The head of the U.S. Department of the Interior came under further scrutiny on Thursday [10-5-17] amid a media report that he had attended a Republican fundraiser in March during a government trip to the Caribbean.
Politico, citing department travel records and other documents, said Ryan Zinke attended a Virgin Islands Republican Party fundraiser where donors paid up to $5,000 per couple for a photograph with the secretary.
The report comes as multiple investigations into the former one-term congressman’s travel while serving in the Trump administration were announced this week following various media reports on the subject.
On Monday, the Interior Department’s watchdog agency said it was probing Zinke’s travels after recent reports that he had used a private plane owned by an oil executive.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said it was investigating whether he broke the law in June when he gave a speech to a professional hockey team owned by a political donor.
Other Cabinet members have also been scrutinized over their use of taxpayer money for more expensive private travel rather than less expensive commercial trips.”

-Reuters Staff, “U.S. interior secretary raised political funds on government trip: report,” Reuters, Oct. 5, 2017 06:36am

10,571. 10/3/2017

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/ETHICS/INTERIOR/RYAN ZINKE: “The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke broke the law when he gave a speech to a professional hockey team owned by a political donor in June, the agency said on Tuesday.
Zinke is already being investigated by the Interior Department’s inspector general in connection with his travels and the use of private charter flights, amid heightened scrutiny into private plane use by administration officials.
The Campaign for Accountability complained last week that a speech Zinke gave on June 26 to the Vegas Golden Knights, a National Hockey League team based in Las Vegas, violated the Hatch Act barring executive branch employees from engaging in political activity.
The team is owned by Bill Foley, chairman of Fidelity National Financial Inc and a donor to Zinke’s congressional campaigns.
The Office of Special Counsel’s Hatch Act unit, which is independent from the Justice Department, said in an email to Daniel Stevens, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, that it received its Hatch Act complaint ‘and will open a case file to address this matter.’
A spokeswoman for the agency declined to comment on the case.
Interior Department officials said the speech did not violate any laws, rules or regulations.”

-Valerie Volcovici, “U.S. Interior Secretary investigated over speech to donor’s hockey team,” Reuters, Oct. 3, 2017 09:34am

10,477. 9/28/2017

CONFLICT OF INTERESTS/TAXES/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT: “President Trump could cut his tax bills by more than $1.1 billion, including saving tens of millions of dollars in a single year, under his proposed tax changes, a New York Times analysis has found.
On Wednesday [9-28-17], the White House announced a sweeping plan to cut a variety of taxes that would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. The estimate of Mr. Trump’s savings is based in part on information from his 2005 federal tax return. The analysis compares what his tax burden would be under current law with what it would be under the proposal…
In fact, high-income earners like Mr. Trump are likely to benefit disproportionately if the White House proposal becomes law. The estimates, calculated with the help of Robert Willens, an accounting expert, and Stephen Breitstone, a tax lawyer, provide a view into precisely how.
Though it would not be reflected on his income tax return, Mr. Trump’s proposal to eliminate the estate tax would generate the largest tax savings. If his assets — reportedly valued at $2.86 billion — were transferred after his death under today’s rules, his estate would be taxed at about 40 percent. Repealing the federal estate tax could save his family about $1.1 billion, though it could still be subject to New York estate taxes.
The decades-old alternative minimum tax is meant to prevent America’s wealthiest from using deductions to pay very low or no federal income tax. In 2005, it accounted for about 80 percent of Mr. Trump’s overall income tax payment. His plan to repeal the tax would save him $31.3 million.”

-Jesse Drucker and Nadja Popovich, “Trump Could Save More Than $1 Billion Under His New Tax Plan,” The New York Times online, Sept. 28, 2017

10,365. 9/25/2017

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/ETHICS/JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: “On Sept. 28, 2016, three members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the Justice Department suggesting that the drug company Mylan was violating Medicaid laws.
Nine days later, the Justice Department reached a massive $465 million settlement with the firm.
In between, another action happened almost invisibly: A Judiciary Committee aide to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) dropped somewhere between $4,004 and $60,000 in Mylan stock from his and his child’s portfolios…
Durbin’s aide, Daniel Swanson, isn’t alone. A POLITICO review of federal disclosures for 2015 and 2016 found that some senior aides regularly buy and sell individual stocks that present potential conflicts of interest with their work. A smaller number of staffers trade in companies that lobby Congress and the committees that employ them. In all, approximately 450 aides have bought or sold a stock of more than $1,001 in value since May 2015…
Government watchdogs say that, at a minimum, staffers should be prevented from buying shares of companies with business before their committees. But they are not. And despite the disparity between the rigorous standards for the executive branch and the laxness of Congress, the House and Senate have taken a permissive approach even to enforcing existing rules.
That’s a serious problem, watchdogs say, because aides often have more of a hands-on role than the members themselves in crafting details of legislation that could have enormous consequences for individual companies. And because aides are rarely in the spotlight, there’s more potential for ethical lapses to go unnoticed.”

-Maggie Severns, “Congressional aides risk conflicts with stock trades,” Politico, Sept, 25, 2017 05:06am

9,144. 7/26/2017

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/ETHICS/TRUMP BUSINESS: “Promotional materials for the Trump Tower in Mumbai improperly featured a reference to President Donald Trump, showing how difficult it is to separate the president from a brand whose value is based on his name.
A public-relations campaign for the 75-story condominium tower—set to be completed in less than two years and still 40% unsold—boasted breathtaking views, luxury appointments, and a connection to ‘U.S.-based real estate tycoon, celebrity & POTUS Donald Trump.’ The materials—a promotional email featuring an 80-page brochure—contained a picture of a younger Mr. Trump.
After being contacted last week by The Wall Street Journal, the Trump Organization and an Indian development firm marketing the project said the materials had been sent out by a broker without their authorization, and won’t be used again.
The Mumbai episode points to complications in the Trump Organization’s control of outside parties involved in selling and marketing his brand, even after Mr. Trump’s November move to stop running his business and turn over its management to his adult sons.
His company has made some efforts not to market Mr. Trump directly, such as pulling his image off webpages connected to his golf courses and other properties.”

-Michael Rothfeld and Alexandra Berzon, “Pitch for Trump Tower Mumbai Plays Up Connection to Donald Trump,” The Wall Street Journal online, July 26, 2017 06:39am

9,095. 7/24/2017

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI/CHINA/CONFLICT OF INTEREST: “Anthony Scaramucci’s appointment as White House communications director presents a sensitive situation for the planned sale of his investment company to a Chinese conglomerate—a deal that is now under government review.
Mr. Scaramucci first announced plans to sell a controlling stake in his hedge-fund investing firm, SkyBridge Capital, to Chinese giant HNA Group Co. in January in anticipation of joining the White House, he said. He didn’t get a job there at the time.
Meanwhile, the SkyBridge/HNA deal proceeded and, like many foreign deals, is facing a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S.
Mr. Scaramucci’s appointment to a White House position last week gives the review new significance. The committee, which reviews deals for national security concerns, is made up of top officials in the administration of President Donald Trump, and is led by the Treasury.
The panel, known as CFIUS, can approve a deal or recommend the president block it, meaning a transaction that Mr. Scaramucci stands to profit from could ultimately be in the hands of his boss, Mr. Trump.
The deal is worth $250 million, according to a person familiar with the matter. Securities filings indicate that Mr. Scaramucci has a 25%-to-50% stake in the firm, which would mean that he could stand to earn between $62.5 million and $125 million from the deal.
White House officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.”

-Kate O’Keefe and Michael C. Bender, “Scaramucci’s White House Role Raises Questions for Planned Sale of His Investment Firm,” The Wall Street Journal online, July 24, 2017 07:28pm

9,042. 7/21/2017

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/TRUMP FAMILY/JARED KUSHNER: “Potential conflicts of interest spring eternal in the Trump administration. There is the simple fact that the president never divested of his myriad business holdings nor did he release his tax returns. Foreign diplomats and officials continue to book banquets and hotel rooms at Trump-owned properties to court the president’s favor (the Trump Organization claims it is difficult track the foreign money, which critics say violates the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution). The Trump brand has been provisionally awarded trademark protections in China, raising concerns that the president’s licensing plays (as well as his daughter’s eponymous fashion brand) are receiving preferential treatment abroad. Nearly every weekend, the president visits one of his properties, effectively using his office to advertise his private businesses.
He is not the only one who can’t seem to untie himself from his financial entanglements. On Thursday [7-20-17] evening, CNN reported that Jared Kushner and his status as a senior adviser to his father-in-law are still being used to recruit Chinese investors to his family’s real-estate development project in New Jersey, months after Kushner Companies apologized for mentioning his role in a sales pitch this spring.”

-Emily Jane Fox, “JARED KUSHNER’S WHITE HOUSE ROLE IS STILL BEING USED TO LURE FOREIGN INVESTORS,” Vanity Fair, July 21, 2017 08:40am

8,850. 7/13/2017

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/GOP/TRUMP FAMILY: “One Republican congressman has some advice for President Donald Trump: get your kids out of the White House.
Following the series of emails released by Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday, Rep. Bill Flores, who represents Texas’s 17th Congressional District, said he thinks the President’s best move is to remove all of his children from his administration, whether they hold an official position or not.
‘I’m going out on a limb here — but I would say I think it would be in the President’s best interest if he removed all of his children from the White House. Not only Donald Trump (Jr.), but Ivanka and Jared Kushner,’ Flores told CNN affiliate KBTX, which is based in Bryan, Texas, on Thursday morning.
Both Ivanka Trump and Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, serve as senior advisers to the President. Trump Jr. does not hold an official position.”

-Noa Yadidi, Deirdre Walsh, and Jeremy Herb, “Texas Republican: President’s best interest to remove Trump children from White House,” CNN Politics, CNN.com, July 13, 2017 03:53pm

8,299. 6/16/2017

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/CUBA/ETHICS/FOREIGN POLICY/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT/TRUMP BUSINESS: “The proposed changes in US-Cuba relations that President Donald Trump will unveil Friday in Miami could adversely impact hotel brands that directly compete with Trump’s business empire, making it more difficult for them expand their foothold in Cuba.
Trump’s changes in Cuba policy include prohibiting ‘financial transactions, including transactions incidental to travel with GAESA and its affiliates, subsidiaries, and successors,’ according to documents reviewed by CNN. Gaviota, the tourism arm of the government-run GAESA, currently operates the Four Points by Sheraton Havana, a hotel that, when it opened, was the first US hotel to open in Cuba in nearly 60 years.
GAESA, the company directly targeted by Trump’s plan, controls large swathes of the Cuban economy and is run by Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, Raul Castro’s son-in-law.
Even Americans traveling legally to Cuba, according to the new Trump policy, would not be able to stay in any hotel connected to the Cuban military, including the Four Points by Sheraton in Havana.
The Trump proposal would include exemptions to this policy, but none appear to include hotels like the Sheraton or future projects.”

-Dan Merica, Patrick Oppmann, and Jim Acosta, “Changes in Cuba policy could adversely impact Trump’s hotel competitors,” CNN Politics, CNN.com, June 16, 2017 10:28am

8,224. 6/12/2017

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/ETHICS/LEGAL/TRUMP AS PRESIDENT: “In a new legal challenge to President Trump, Maryland and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit Monday [6-12-17] alleging that his failure to shed his private businesses has undermined public trust and violated constitutional bans against self-dealing.
The lawsuit, filed in a Maryland federal court, makes many of the same arguments in a lawsuit filed earlier this year by a Washington watchdog organization in a New York federal court. But some legal experts said it rested on stronger legal ground because the plaintiffs were governmental entities, which could have stronger standing to sue the president.
The complaint opens uncharted legal territory. No state has accused a president of violating the emoluments clauses of the Constitution. One of those clauses bans federal officials from accepting gifts from foreign governments. A second prohibits the president from accepting economic benefits from the federal or state governments, other than his salary.
Because Mr. Trump continues to own and profit from his business empire, the lawsuit claims, it is unclear whether he is making decisions in the country’s best interest or out of ‘self-interested motivations grounded in the international and domestic business dealings in which President Trump’s personal fortune is at stake.’ “

-Sharon LaFraniere, “Maryland and D.C. Sue Trump Over His Private Businesses,” The New York Times online, June 12, 2017

8,190. 6/11/2017

CONFLICT OF INTEREST/ETHICS/TRUMP BUSINESS: “Government lawyers said Friday [6-9-17] that the U.S. Constitution permits President Donald Trump’s hotels and other businesses to accept payments from foreign governments, in response to a lawsuit alleging such payments violate the Constitution.
Instead of divesting after he was elected president, Mr. Trump put his business assets into a trust and let his two adult sons run the Trump Organization.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group that tracks corporate influence in politics and public policy, seized on Mr. Trump’s refusal to divest in a January lawsuit filed in federal district court in Manhattan, one of several cases targeting Mr. Trump’s business ties and conduct during his presidential campaign.
Business competitors to Mr. Trump’s hotels have since joined the CREW lawsuit, which says Mr. Trump is barred under the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clauses from receiving compensation from domestic and foreign governments.”

-Joe Palazzolo and Brent Kendall, “Justice Department Argues Trump’s Businesses Can Accept Foreign Payments,” The Wall Street Journal online, June 11, 2017 07:26pm