1. U.S. Properties
At the top of this list is the Trump International Hotel, a few blocks from the White House. Once the Old Post Office building, Trump’s organization renovated it and turned it into a luxury hotel to compete with others in downtown Washington. The most expensive suite could sell for as much as $20,000 a night. A five-night stay in that suite by those seeking an audience with the president-elect in the Oval Office would cost $100,000.
The Washington Post recently reported considerable interest in booking Trump’s Washington hotel as a deliberate way for foreign visitors to show their support for the incoming Trump White House. Two legal experts—Richard Painter, who was former President George W. Bush’s chief ethics counsel, and noted constitutional legal expert Lawrence Tribe—both say that this appears to be an “emolument” (a gift) that a president isn’t allowed to accept. The Constitution doesn’t allow presidents to receive expensive gifts from foreign agents.
The “emoluments clause” is the only conflict of interest law that applies to the presidency. It is designed to keep foreign interests from essentially buying influence with U.S. government officials, including the president. Trump may tread on this clause literally during the first week of his presidency as foreign agents pay vast sums to stay at his hotel during inauguration week. Here’s the exact language from the “Emoluments Clause” in the Constitution: “No person holding any (U.S.) office of profit or trust…shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present…of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
The central question will be this: if foreign agents spend $5 million—or $500 million—to stay at Trump properties as a way to curry favor with the White House, does this constitute an emolument given to directly benefit the president-elect? The clause’s applicability to a president has never really been tested in court. It might during a Trump presidency if he chooses not to sell his assets, or set up a true blind trust that shields him from knowing if anything valuable is offered to him.
2. Foreign Interests
While American voters largely know Trump from his American real-estate properties and his stint as a reality network television star, his organization has any number of business deals that are connected either directly with foreign governments or individuals with deep ties to those governments. Any one of those business deals is likely to come under intense scrutiny when administration proposals affect governments involved in those business deals.
More than 100 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries. One extraordinary conflict of interest is an effort by eight mysterious Trump companies established on the eve of Trump’s campaign to develop luxury real estate projects in Saudi Arabia—a country that Trump explicitly said he hopes to protect as president.
The Trump organization also has business deals or properties in Scotland, Azerbaijan and Uruguay. He has marketing deals in Turkey, the Philippines, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates. The Bank of China is a lender to at least one of Trump’s properties. Representatives of his organization carry the Trump brand to dozens of other countries on a regular basis—raising the distinct possibility that Trump’s business brand will essentially be promoted right alongside the Trump White House and American national interests in many of these places. The Trump organization, for instance, describes the role of his son, Donald Jr., as business development and acquisitions that range “from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia, the Middle East to South America, (and) mainland China.”
It’s also clear that Trump may not be shy about mixing and matching official White House duties with those involving foreign business interests. Just last week, Trump met with three Indian business partners at Trump Tower to discuss a luxury apartment complex they’re developing together near Mumbai, the New York Times reported. For this meeting, at least, there was no apparent effort to separate his business dealings from his work as the President-elect, though a spokeswoman for the Trump organization described it as nothing more than a courtesy visit rather than a business meeting. Those Indian executives, however, have told Indian newspapers that they had been discussing the possibility of expanding their business deals with the Trump organization now that he was the President-elect, the Times reported.
Regardless of whether any sorts of business partnership expansions were discussed, legal experts say that such meetings alone raise conflict of interest questions for Trump because there is at least the appearance that he could be using the White House to advance his own business interests. Ivanka Trump joined a Trump White House transition team meeting with Japan’s leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, last week, which prompted even more questions about how closely aligned Trump’s business interests will be with affairs of state.
3. Family Matters
Relatives and family members who are currently making important decisions about what a Trump administration will look like will come under intense media scrutiny—especially for those who choose to work in the White House or take on official advisory council posts. Trump’s closest advisors have said in recent weeks that they would like to see his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, become a senior White House official, reflecting his clear and obvious role in major decisions the President-elect has made since the election.