Nice little country you got here

Meanwhile, as the agents sift through all those files from Michael Cohen’s office and house and hotel room, there’s the issue of Trump and The Trump Organization and Panama.

Lawyers representing President Donald Trump’s namesake business appealed directly to Panama’s president for help in a dispute over a luxury Panama City hotel, The Associated Press reported Monday.

The AP said it obtained a letter dated March 22 in which the law firm Britton & Iglesias asked Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela to intervene in the legal dispute, arguing that the courts denied the Trump Organization due process and violated a bilateral treaty.

The letter also warned that there could be consequences for Panama if he didn’t, the AP reported.

The firm responded Monday to the AP’s story. In a statement provided to Business Insider by the Trump Organization, Britton & Iglesias wrote that the purpose of the letter, which was sent to Panama’s executive, legislative, and judicial branch, was to “warn the Panamanian Government of possible violations of the Investment Protection Treaty, which could be derived by the actions taken by some owners of the hotel units, and that, in our opinion, could result in a possible ‘procedural fraud.'”

“We categorically reject any assumption or assertion that the letter sought to ‘pressure’ the President of the Republic of Panama or any other official of the government of Panama,” the firm continued. “The drafting of this type of letter to the Governments in matters of International Investment Arbitration (ICSID) is very common, and was sent as part of our legal representation of Trump Panama Hotel Management, LLC.”

That might be true (or it might not)…but the fact remains that the Trump Organization is the president’s business, so the appearance that the president is leaning on the government of Panama to help his business is unavoidable. Rules about conflicts of interest are very much about appearances as well as realities.

Panama’s vice president and foreign secretary, Isabel Saint Malo, said her office was copied on the letter, which she described as urging the executive branch “to interfere in an issue clearly of the judicial branch.”

So that hints that it’s probably not true that “The drafting of this type of letter to the Governments in matters of International Investment Arbitration (ICSID) is very common” – or that it’s seen as inappropriate even if it is common. In non-authoritarian countries the judicial branch is supposed to be independent of the executive – that’s a major part of what makes them non-authoritarian.

Instead of divesting himself of his businesses or placing them into a blind trust before taking office, Trump passed control to his two sons and a senior Trump Organization executive — a move ethics experts said did not go far enough in addressing potential conflicts of interest.

Experts told Business Insider last month that Panama provided an example of such a conflict.

“The president can obviously have a great impact on American foreign policy toward Panama,” Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Business Insider in March. “How could this affect that? We don’t know, but it’s not good that we have to ask.”

Conflicts of interest mean always having to ask.

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