(SL) – I don’t know what else has to be done before Capitol Hill does what it needs to do. Whether it’s the continuance of business profits while holding office, setting off bombs without consulting Congress, Mike Flynn, Steve Bannon..the list goes on. The Rolling Stone says it best:
We have watched this unfold in the open: Trump has thumbed his nose at custom and the Constitution by refusing to resolve the conflicts of interest that will now shadow his presidency. He has used his Twitter account – a 21st-century bully pulpit – not to unify Americans behind his agenda, but to settle personal scores in a sustained assault on freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.
Trump has installed an inner circle that aims to marginalize millions of our countrymen, even as it seeks to degrade the institutions of our government. Finally, Trump has clutched Russia in a perplexing bear hug. Whether he’s done this out of genuine admiration for its brutal regime, because he’s indebted to its oligarchs, or because Trump has somehow been compromised by former KGB colonel Vladimir Putin we have yet to resolve. For Americans, and for our NATO allies, none of these alternatives will be reassuring.
Republicans in Congress have stood by quietly, almost without objection. They’ve acted as enablers – even as Trump has inserted himself as the ur-chairman of publicly traded companies, blessing their manufacturing plans or tanking their stock prices with a single tweet. Republicans used to object to politicians “picking winners and losers.” Just last July, Speaker Paul Ryan called it “a recipe for a closed economy – for cronyism.”
History will judge this period harshly.
Conflicts of interest
Trump has not released his tax returns. The American public remains in the dark about the debts and deals that could bind the 45th president against the national interest or pervert the foreign policy of the United States.
The lack of transparency matters because Donald Trump has not divested from his businesses. His promises to set up a blind trust and to halt new business deals were both empty. As the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, described it, Trump’s decision to hand daily management of the Trump Organization to his adult sons instead is “meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective.”
Sounding more than a bit like Richard Nixon, Trump has proclaimed that “the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” By a lawyerly reading of 18 U.S.C. § 208, that may parse as true – but the claim is false from any moral perspective. The Supreme Court has written that when our leaders “engage in activities which arouse suspicions of corruption,” those office-holders endanger “the very fabric of a democratic society.” Trump, Shaub insisted in remarks delivered January 11th at the Brookings Institution, has failed to rise to the standards “that every president in the past four decades has met.”
In fact, during the transition period, Trump and his children appeared to trade on his status as president-elect: The Trumps have reportedly secured a stalled building permit for a tower in Argentina; Ivanka Trump joined her father in a meeting with the prime minister of Japan, where she has business with a state-backed enterprise; and the Trump Organization’s new leaders, Don Jr. and Eric Trump, took seats at the conference table for a once-in-a lifetime meeting with executives from Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Oracle, Microsoft and others at the “tech summit” convened by their president-elect father at Trump Tower. Even Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been pursuing lucrative business deals with foreign investors. Trump has now named Kushner a senior adviser, skirting anti-nepotism laws.
The president’s global business enterprise remains an invitation to corruption – from interests who may try to ingratiate themselves to Trump by leasing his properties, golfing at his resorts or lodging at his hotels, including the new Trump International, down the street from the White House.
Trump’s business conflicts raise not only ethical but constitutional concerns. Can profits earned from foreign governments paying exorbitant sums for luxury rentals, hotel rooms, golf retreats or $24 cocktails be construed as either bribes or “emoluments” (i.e., gifts)? Those would be impeachable offenses under the Constitution.
The Republican Congress could act to place limits on Trump’s ability to profit from his office. Congress could also force Trump to reveal his tax returns, which 74 percent of Americans want him to release. But the only move a Republican from the legislative branch has made on presidential ethics so far is to threaten the independent government watchdog who dared criticize Trump.
This has left our 45th president, in the words of Harvard legal scholar Laurence Tribe, “a walking, talking violation of the constitution from the moment he takes the oath.”
And then there’s Russia.