Haggling over the quid pro quo

On NPR, a conversation about the conflict of interest issue. Richard Painter advised Bush Junior and Norman Eisen advised Obama.


President-elect Donald Trump shifted positions on several issues yesterday. But in a talk with The New York Times, he avoided placing many limits on his opportunity to profit while in office.


The president-elect, who has worldwide business interests, admits that he, quote, “might have requested a business favor from visiting British politicians.” His staff had previously denied that.

INSKEEP: His staff also denied that Trump sought a business favor when talking with Argentina’s president, but his daughter Ivanka – a vice president of his company – joined that call.

His daughter was on that call? Why? Why is no one putting a stop to all this?

GREENE: Ivanka Trump also joined Trump’s meeting with Japan’s prime minister.

INSKEEP: Two ethics lawyers – one Democrat, one Republican – now want Trump to do as other presidents have done. He can put his assets in a blind trust, where they will be sold. Richard Painter was President Bush’s top ethics lawyer, Norman Eisen was President Obama’s. They say federal ethics laws do not apply to the president but other laws do.

It’s unfortunate that federal ethics laws don’t apply to the president. I guess nobody believed we’d ever have one like Trump.

[pauses to have another moment of disbelief that this has happened]

Inskeep asks what’s the danger. Painter says well it gets too close to bribery.

INSKEEP: Is it – is the danger that someone in the Philippines or in Argentina or in Britain or name your country will do a business favor for the new president hoping that it might influence U.S. policy?

PAINTER: Here is where you get into the danger zone, when the government official starts talking about U.S. government business and then also talking about what personal business favors they might want. And when the conversation goes down that road, it does risk crossing the line into solicitation of a bribe. And people need to be very careful about these types of conversations, whether it’s I don’t like those windmills close to my golf courses or whatever it is. Those conversations should never take place at the same time as we’re discussing United States government business and what the – someone else might want from the U.S. government.

But Trump, astoundingly, doesn’t grasp that.

Eisen says there’s also the emoluments clause.

INSKEEP: What’s it say?

EISEN: Well, it says that presidents and other federal officials are not allowed to accept presents from foreign sovereigns. There’s already reports, for example, that the Trump Hotel here in Washington, D.C. is inviting representatives of foreign embassies to come and do deals with them to the extent they include presents, which is customary as part of these deals. That is a violation of the Constitution. And now we’re not only on criminal territory, we’re actually moving towards impeachment territory if a president violates the Constitution.

Why would we even want to be talking about this? Mr. Trump ought to do the right thing and set up a true blind trust and build a big beautiful ethics wall where Mr. Trump and his managers agree not to talk business in meetings with foreign leaders.

He absolutely ought to, but he has no intention of it, and when asked about it he babbles about never seeing his daughter again.

INSKEEP: Well, let me understand this because the Trump campaign has said, don’t worry about it, Trump’s kids are going to run his businesses. Isn’t that good enough?

EISEN: It is far from good enough. Every president has utilized the blind trust or its equivalent to reassure the American people that those presidents’ actions are motivated by the public interest, not their own personal special interests. So it’s not good enough.

PAINTER: And imagine where we’d be today if President Franklin Roosevelt had owned apartment buildings in Frankfurt and Berlin. You know, some of us might be speaking German. I mean, it is very important.

INSKEEP: Oh, you’re saying (laughter) – you’re saying what if the American president during World War II had had a financial stake in the future of Germany? Wouldn’t be good.

PAINTER: Well, yes, as many prominent American businessmen did. And those people who did often supported the America First movement and didn’t want us to stand up to Hitler. Are we going to be in a situation where we swap out the security of Israel so we can get a casino or a hotel in Abu Dhabi? I mean, this – the scenarios go on and on.

And nothing happens. Apparently no one will stop him.

INSKEEP: Why wouldn’t the president-elect respond to your concerns the same way that he responded to demands for his tax returns, just by declining to comply?

EISEN: Well, he’ll have an interval of goodwill. He’ll have a honeymoon period. And he may very well choose to decline. But just wait for that first scandal, that first impropriety to hit. The political pressure will become so intense that he’s going to be forced to do something.

Wait for the first scandal to hit if we know about it. He does it in secret as much as he can.

7 Responses to “Haggling over the quid pro quo”