The Clinton Foundation modelConceive of the Clinton Foundation as a giant web of contacts, with Bill Clinton as the mastermind at the center.
The contacts include hundreds of governmental entities and officials, businessmen, politicians, charities, media publicists, Clinton entourage members, and others. The web has large financial resources to draw on for its activities. The primary attraction of the web has been the Clinton machine for political access and influence, which, before November 8th, had the prospect of being incomparably augmented by Hillary Clinton being elected President.
The web has existed for benefiting the participants through the trading of financial inducements and governmental, political and commercial favors.
Bill Clinton is the mastermind in charge of the operation of the web. Proposals for projects for the web come to him, He vets them with a view to benefits for web participants and assembling a team of web contacts to provide needed services and assets for a particular project, including pulling needed strings with involved governmental bodies and officials.
The Clinton Foundation was hugely successful in its purposes and grew spectacularly for 15 years. Many, many persons wanted to get on the Clinton Foundation roster of participants in order to partake of large financial and other benefits that could be obtained through the massive Clinton web of contacts and connections.
Besides enriching themselves through the trading of financial inducements and governmental, political and commercial favors, the Clintons ultimately had their eyes on supporting Hillary Clinton's quest for the Presidency. This made the Clinton Foundation a virtual precursor of the Hillary Clinton Presidential campaign, enabling immediate donations to the Foundation (and payment of speaking fees) that would nurture the Clinton political machine for its ultimate quest, and donors being deserving for recognition in the future if Hillary Clinton was elected President ("pay to play" in advance, so to speak).
One gauge of how much present and prospective pay to play went on in connection with the Clinton Foundation will be how much the Clinton Foundation donations and activities fall off now that the value of the Clinton political brand has been very substantially reduced by Hillary Clinton's losing the Presidency with little prospects ahead.
The Trump business empire is a massive web of contacts and connections that Donald Trump has developed over 25 years in business, and that most in the country are just beginning to learn about.
Before Trump's ascendancy to the Presidency, Trump was a governmental outsider (compared to the Clintons being governmental insiders), and it is likely Trump Inc. currently has a lesser degree of contacts, access and influence in the governmental and political realm compared to what the Clintons cultivated over 25 years in their governmental spheres. So long as Trump was in the private sector, the Trump Inc. web of contacts and connections did not present the troublesome aspects that the Clinton web of contacts presented in the form of the Clinton Foundation and the Clintons' outsized role in political fundraising (and its concomitant "pay to play").
Trump will become the ultimate governmental insider and have more access and influence in the governmental domain than anyone else.
Trump has given the impression that he is going to keep the business empire fully operational. As a result, now the massive web of contacts and connections of Trump Inc is potentially available for use in new ways. These new ways could create "pay to pay" problems like the Clinton Foundation and raise other novel questions that are troublesome.
1. The Trump Inc web as an adjunct to regular Presidential powers
One way for Trump web to be used by Trump is as an adjunct to Trump's regular Presidential powers for carrying out his Presidential agenda.
For example, Trump could simply ask his Trump web contacts to support his legislation, including that they contact their Congressional representatives to urge the representatives to support Trump legislation. Trump could couple his requests with indications of favorable treatment of business interests of web contacts who help out, and Trump may even signal that failure to support Trump legislation could be met with some unfavorable business treatment by the Trump administration.
Besides using the Trump business web, Trump has already exhibited a willingness to go outside of regular Executive Branch modes of governance in order to carry out his Presidential agenda. This was shown in his contacting the Carrier Air Conditioning Company directly over the Thanksgiving holiday to try to keep jobs in Indiana. Trump has lived by the "art of the deal" in his business career and is on course to bring it to his Presidency. Trump stands to expand enormously already massive web of contacts in business and government in order to make "deals" to advance his Presidential agenda.
This prospective form of governance by Trump is to be contrasted with regular modes of governance by the Executive Branch. The regular modes start with Congress passing laws, making appropriations, funding programs and incentives under the law, and specifying punishments for non-compliance with the law. The Executive Branch executes the laws Congress passes, including by means of administrative agencies which act by general rule making and by enforcement in particular cases for which there are administrative and judicial protections for those against whom enforcement is sought.
Governing by "deals" (such as exhibited by the Carrier Air Conditioning Company) raises questions of whether it is constitutional rule by law or is impermissible extra-legal means of governance. Troubling problems include lack of transparency and improper inducements or punishments to obtain the "deal".
2. Increased "pay to play"
If Trump uses his Trump Inc. web to help him in carrying out Trump administration agenda, those whom Trump calls on to help may want to obtain something from Trump in return.
To the extent it is perceived that Trump is using his Trump Inc. web as an adjunct to his regular Presidential powers, many will vy to participate and augment their participation in the Trump web, so they may curry favor with Trump and possibly receive things in return for helping Trump (a form of "pay to play")..
"Pay to play" is significant problem in the regular political fund raising domain, and efforts are made to counter the problem by means of such things as reporting and disclosure about campaign contributions
Trump's adamancy that the President cannot have "conflicts of interest" may provide rationalization and induce willingness of those in the Trump Inc. web to engage in "pay to play" with Trump.
Further, in the Trump Inc web, "pay to play" can be camouflaged, and reporting and disclosure may be not work very well to combat problems with that form of "pay to play."
Trump's use of the Trump Inc. web and his "art of the deal" method give rise to undesirable secrecy in how Trump is governing the country (compared to Trump operating within the organized Executive Branch of government).
3. Conflation of the USA and Donald Trump
There does not seem to be a limit to Trump's sense of grandiosity about himself.
If Trump keeps his business empire, there is a risk he will conflate his Trump businesses and Trump name with the greater interest of the country as a whole, and Trump will develop a mindset that the greater the success of Trump businesses and the ever more prominently the Trump name figures in the nation and in the world, the greater America is and the greater America will be so viewed.
Trump may simply conceive of himself as having two empires to run and build, one being the country and the other being the Trump private empire.
If that conflation happens in Trump's mind, particularly if he continues in his view that the President cannot have conflicts of interest, there is likely going to be rampant blurring of lines between Trump as President and Trump Inc., rampant violation of "conflicts of interest" standards that are applied throughout the governmental realm, and rampant "pay to play."
4. Trump Inc. as the Clinton Foundation on steroids
If Congress and the voters do not strenuously oppose Trump in the course he is on regarding Trump Inc., it is fair to say that Trump Inc. will become the Clinton Foundation on steroids.
Trump tweeted today that he will "be leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to make America great again." His tweets further said,‘‘While I am not mandated to do this under the law, I feel it is visually important, as president, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.’’ Also, legal documents are ‘‘being crafted which take me completely out of business operations,’’and the presidency is ‘‘a far more important task!’’
Trump's saying he is "not mandated" to do anything regarding his businesses ignores consideration of what the word "faithfully" means in his constitutional oath of office to "faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States."
It is far from clear, if the rest of the Trump family is left to run the Trump businesses, that Trump will be able to "faithfully" execute the Office of President of the United States.
Today's tweets by Donald Trump come after the below letter that the Democrats on House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wrote to the Chairman of the Committee.
November 28, 2016
The Honorable Jason Chaffetz
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Mr. Chairman:
It has now been two weeks since Ranking Member Cummings wrote to you requesting that the Oversight Committee immediately begin reviewing President-elect Donald Trump’s financial arrangements in order to identify and protect against conflicts of interest.
Although you have stated publicly that you will hold Mr. Trump to the same standards as President Obama and Secretary Clinton, you have not responded to Ranking Member Cummings’ letter, and you have not taken steps to conduct basic oversight of these unprecedented challenges.
Since Ranking Member Cummings sent his letter, Americans across the country have flooded our Committee’s offices with thousands of calls in strong support of this investigation, jamming our phone lines with more calls than we have ever received in response to any other issue.
At the same time, during this two-week period, troubling new revelations about Mr. Trump’s actions ― as well as those of his family members and business associates ― have made the need for robust congressional oversight even more urgent.
For these reasons, we are now all writing to you in support of Ranking Member Cummings’ request, and we ask that the Oversight Committee begin its work as soon as possible.
President-Elect Trump’s Refusal to Acknowledge Bipartisan Concerns
Mr. Trump has exhibited a shocking level of disdain for legitimate bipartisan concerns about his conflicts of interest. For example, during an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Trump stated, “The law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
Of course, this statement is incorrect. Mr. Trump can ― and already does ― have obvious conflicts of interest between his widespread global business interests and his Constitutional obligations as president.
The relevant question is whether he will follow the model set by his predecessors to mitigate these conflicts by liquidating his assets and placing them in a blind trust. If he refuses, then Congress must fulfill our own responsibilities by closely examining the Constitutional and statutory provisions that govern Mr. Trump’s actions, determining whether his approach meets these standards, and proposing appropriate reforms to address any problems we identify.
Unfortunately, Mr. Trump does not appear to be taking these concerns seriously. On November 21, 2016, he tweeted, “Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!”
Again, this statement is clearly incorrect. The nation’s leading Republican and Democratic ethics scholars have called on Mr. Trump to place his financial holdings in a blind trust.
For example, the top ethics counsels for former President George W. Bush, Richard Painter, and President Barack Obama, Norman Eisen, published an op-ed in The Washington Post titled, “Trump’s ‘Blind Trust’ is Neither Blind Nor Trustworthy.” They wrote:
Donald Trump must urgently rethink his plan to allow his children to run his businesses. As drastic as it may seem to him, he should instead put all his conflict-generating assets in a true blind trust run by an independent trustee. The good of his own administration, and that of the country, demand nothing less.
Mr. Painter and Ambassador Eisen recommend that Mr. Trump “appoint an independent professional trustee to take charge of liquidating and converting to cash Trump business holdings through an initial public offering or leveraged buyout.” Second, they recommend that the proceeds “be turned over to the trustee to be managed.” Third, they recommend that as long as Mr. Trump’s children and their spouses are dealing with Mr. Trump’s business matters, “he should ask them to step away from the transition team and the White House, and to not advise him or be involved in any U.S. government affairs.”
Similarly, a group of 19 government accountability experts and organizations called on Mr. Trump to place his assets into a blind trust. They wrote:
Contacts about the Trump businesses should be prohibited between all other administration officials and people involved in the businesses, including any of the children who maintain an ongoing involvement with the businesses. Except for personal communication with the president or first lady, such telephone calls and emails should be routed to the White House counsel to make sure that the firewall is not breached.
Even The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board argued that “Mr. Trump’s best option is to liquidate his stake in the company.” In addition, the editorial board of The Salt Lake Tribune agreed with Ranking Member Cummings’ request to conduct a rigorous review, writing: “that, if he wants anyone to take him seriously, is exactly what Chaffetz and his Oversight Committee should start preparing to do.”
Global Scope of President-Elect’s Conflicts of Interest
The scope of Mr. Trump’s conflicts of interest around the world is unprecedented. Over the past two weeks, new revelations have raised serious concerns about the intermingling of Mr. Trump’s businesses and his responsibilities as president.
For example, according to The Washington Post, at least 111 Trump companies have done business in 18 different countries, including projects in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Panama. Mr. Trump has admitted he has “a little conflict of interest” in Turkey because he has a “major, major building in Istanbul.”
In addition, Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka ― who now serves on the transition team as she continues to lead Mr. Trump’s businesses ― reportedly participated in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. According to Japan Today, “For the last 30 years, Donald Trump has attempted to negotiate deals with Japan.”
She also reportedly participated in a meeting with Indian business developers involved in Trump Tower, a hotel in Pune, India which pays to use the Trump name. One of the developers, Kalpesh Mehta, reportedly “expressed satisfaction with the pace of Trump Organization’s India business and showed interest in expanding it further.” Another developer, Sagar Chordia, posted pictures with Ivanka and Eric Trump and confirmed to The New York Times that “they had discussed the desire to expand the deals with the Trump family.”
Ivanka Trump also reportedly participated in a call between Mr. Trump and Argentine President Mauricio Macri on November 14, 2016. The Trump Organization reportedly has pursued building an office tower in Buenos Aires, but it was not completed before the permits expired.
In addition, it has been reported that when Mr. Trump spoke with British politician Nigel Farage, he raised concerns about the impact that offshore wind farms could have on the view from one of his golf courses in Scotland. When The New York Times asked Mr. Trump about this exchange, he admitted that he “might have brought it up.”
It has also been reported that Mr. Trump’s organization filed a lawsuit during this period against the District of Columbia to evade local property taxes on his new Trump International Hotel in the former Post Office Building. Mr. Trump argues that the value of the property is millions of dollars less than the official government assessment, yet Mr. Trump told The New York Times that “occupancy at the hotel will be probably a more valuable asset now than it was before” and that his “brand is certainly a hotter brand that it was before.” In fact, approximately 100 foreign diplomats met during this period at the Trump International Hotel, which is now reportedly “the place to be seen.”
In addition, Mr. Trump will be responsible for appointing the head of the General Services Administration, who will have responsibility to ensure taxpayers are not being cheated by that lease. Procurement experts Steven Schooner and Daniel Gordon have warned:
The Post Office Pavilion lease is between GSA ― whose administrator President-Elect Trump will appoint ― and Trump’s company. It’s a casebook example of both the appearance of a significant conflict of interest and an intolerable intermingling of Trump’s official governmental duties and his and his family’s personal financial interests.
As Mr. Schooner and Mr. Gordon noted, “Any reasonable person would worry about the undue pressures and the inherent risk of favoritism that the government might show to such a well-connected contractor.”
Request to Fulfill Our Constitutional Obligations
The troubling examples cited above are only those that have been reported publicly over the past two weeks, and more are coming to light by the hour. It is difficult to imagine the actual number of conflicts of interest that currently exist around the world and no doubt will cause serious ongoing problems if no action is taken to mitigate them now.
You have the authority to launch a Committee investigation, and we are calling on you to use that power now. You acted with unprecedented urgency to hold “emergency” hearings and issue multiple unilateral subpoenas to investigate Secretary Clinton before the election. We ask that that you show the same sense of urgency now.
Mr. Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns has already demonstrated a troubling lack of transparency and accountability, making it even more critical that the Committee conduct rigorous oversight right away ― before he is sworn in as President.
When you were asked about this in August, you responded:
If you’re going to run and try to become the president of the United States, you’re going to have to open up your kimono and show everything, your tax returns, your medical records. You are going to just going to have to do that. It’s too important. ... I promise you, you I don’t care who is in the White House. My job is not to be a cheerleader for the president. My job is to hold them accountable and to provide that oversight. That’s what we do.
For these reasons, we request that the Committee begin this review by inviting officials designated by Mr. Trump for Committee Members to hear directly about their plans for protecting against conflicts of interest. We also ask that the Committee formally request that Mr. Trump provide the Oversight Committee with copies of his tax returns.
Thank you for your consideration of this request. [link]