Tuesday, March 21, 2017

2 Months In, Trump May Already Own A First: Most Corrupt POTUS. Ever.

Imagine a foreign potentate who uses his official position to promote his private businesses. Who makes face time with visiting dignitaries a perk for his paying customers. Whose top aide urges the citizenry to embrace products sold by the sovereign’s daughter.

For two months now, Americans have not had to imagine any of this. They have been living it.
As President Donald Trump enters his third month in office, he has already established at least one record, however dubious: the president most open and willing to use the prestige of the White House to enrich himself and his family.
“I’m at a loss,” said Robert Maguire, an investigator with the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that advocates for more transparency in government and campaigns. “This idea that the presidency is something to enrich your private interest to the extent he’s doing, not by going on the speaking tour or getting a big book deal after he leaves office, but while he’s in office, sort of milking the office for all it’s worth ― it’s tacky.”

For years, Trump made sure to feature one of his properties and his name-emblazoned jetliner in each episode of his reality TV show “The Apprentice.” Just so, over the past seven weekends, Trump has visited his hotel in Washington, D.C., his golf courses in Palm Beach County and, most frequently, his Mar-a-Lago resort there. The weekend of March 11 – only the second in a month and a half that he did not travel to Florida – he had lunch with top aides at his golf course across the Potomac River from the White House. He did not play golf. He did not stay overnight. All he did was have lunch.
And with each of these visits have come the attendant media coverage, with photos and videos of his for-profit enterprises.
“He should not use his official position to promote his businesses. That doesn’t make him a good businessman. That makes him a bad president,” said Richard Painter, the former top ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush’s White House.[...]

rump’s behavior has no precedent, going back to at least the turn of the last century, ethics experts say. Even in the presidency most often associated with open corruption, it was Warren Harding’s Interior secretary, not Harding himself, who had taken bribes in the Teapot Dome oil lease scandal.
Presidents in recent years have taken care to place their assets in blind trusts, to eliminate possible perceptions of conflicts between their personal interests and those of the United States.
“I don’t think any president in modern history has had a serious conflict,” Painter said.[...]

Meanwhile, the family of his brother-in-law and top White House aide, Jared Kushner, is reportedly negotiating a deal with a Chinese firm that analysts are calling unusually favorable to the Kushners. It would allow them to dramatically reduce their liability on a nine-figure loan on a Manhattan high-rise. At the same time, Kushner has emerged as Trump’s informal but possibly most influential foreign policy negotiator and has already met with Chinese leaders among others.
Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, has been the beneficiary of a different top Trump aide. Kellyanne Conway, reacting to news that department store chain Nordstrom was dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing line because of poor sales, in a TV interview from the White House briefing room urged viewers to take action.

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” Conway told Fox News on Feb. 9. “I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”[...]

And during the visit of Japan’s prime minister to Mar-a-Lago last month, Trump introduced Shinzo Abe to club members hosting a wedding reception. “They’ve been members of this club for a long time,” Trump explained. “They’ve paid me a fortune.”
“This pay-to-play game has got to stop. He’s president of the United States. It’s corruption of government,” said Painter, now a law professor at the University of Minnesota and part of the legal team suing Trump over the payments his hotels are receiving from foreign entities, possibly in violation of the Constitution.
The Center for Responsive Politics’ Maguire said Trump’s behavior has disproven predictions by those who believed he would evolve to meet the decorum expected of the presidency. “The expectation was, once he gets into office, of course he won’t be like this,” Maguire said. “And, of course, he has.”

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