Phone calls

The Argentina deal.

Three days after the phone call between Trump and Macri on Nov.14, Trump’s associates at Buenos Aires firm YY Development Group announced that the construction project would go ahead, in an interview with La Nación (link in Spanish). The tower’s construction had reportedly been held up for years, for various reasons, with YY Development actively restarting construction permit requests when pro-business Macri took over from statist former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Jan. 2016.

There’s nothing substantive to confirm that the phone call and construction announcement are linked, but local news media have reported that the call itself was arranged in very unusual fashion. Macri, who is son of one of Latin America’s richest men and has reportedly known Trump since beating him at golf in the 1980s, had backed the wrong horse at the election, openly supporting Hillary Clinton. Accordingly, a crisis meeting was called to work out how to put relations on the right track (Spanish language) with Trump’s administration.

La Nación reports that foreign minister Susana Malcorra eventually made contact with Trump’s son Eric, with the assistance of close Trump business associate Felipe Yaryura. A Buenos Aires-based businessman and a co-owner of YY Development, Yaryura was with the Trump team and family at the post-election celebrations in the Hilton hotel in New York. Malcorra and Eric Trump reportedly had a “nice and cordial” conversation, with Eric telling Malcorra that his father would talk with Macri when his timetable allows. He then put her in touch with Trump’s foreign affairs team.

This is the “populist” “drain the swamp” “outsider” president-elect.

Under normal circumstances, the State department would be in charge of arranging contact between the president-elect and foreign leaders, rather than having the president-elect’s family speak to senior foreign officials. But Trump’s team has so far eschewed using the government’s services for this, and a State department spokeswoman refused to comment on the phone call, referring us to Trump’s transition team. Trump representatives have not responded to emailed requests for comment. We will update with their comments if they do.

Whether or not the convoluted web of phone calls is related to the sudden spurt in developments surrounding the Trump Tower Buenos Aires, the case underlines anti-corruption campaigners’ arguments that Trump needs to put his assets in a real blind trust, not one run by his family, and fully disclose his business interests. Otherwise, as Transparency International vice-president Shruti Shah says, all his actions can be derailed even by the very perception of corruption.

That’s not what worries me; what worries me is that all his actions will be corrupt.

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