Ignorance is bliss.
Well, ignorance is bliss as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the entire country. President-elect Donald Trump has just over 30 days before he takes office, yet he is still knee-deep in conflicts of interest. The argument that the American people knew they were voting for a businessman - so they know what they’re getting into - is weak. Trump’s claims to be handing over all his business dealings to his children in a “blind trust” is insulting to anyone with any basic grasp of economics or business.
Has Trump ever actually spoken (and listened) to a lawyer? According to US legal terminology, a blind trust is a trust in which the grantor and beneficiary are unaware of the trust’s specific assets, and in which a third party has discretion and management. Trump, being fully aware of his business dealings, claims to be handing over all management of his investments to his children...whom he also appointed to his transition team. The same transition team who is helping him appoint cabinet members, advisors and other positions of authority, not only linked to the president, but to their personal interests.
This, of course, is not brand-new information. Numerous articles have been published exposing Trump’s many conflicts of interest, some including helpful diagrams to perfectly illustrate Trump’s ridiculous positions. Money generated from his children’s deals would still go to his family, and therefore himself.
Trump is not blind to his family’s assets in any way, shape, or form. For example, if Trump Tower Moscow is constructed, Trump will see it while there and know that his family is making money from it. In Washington, the General Services Administration negotiates the lease for Trump International Hotel Washington; Trump will be appointing the head of the General Services Administration - with input from his children since they are on the transition team. They will directly benefit from appointing someone willing to give them good rates, breaks, or renegotiate conditions on the lease. There’s also the small matter of how dignitaries and foreign representatives will feel obligated to stay at that hotel when they come to see Trump in an official capacity. Foreign leaders hoping to be in good standing with President Trump will be encouraged to help the Trump family erect more buildings, sell more jewelry, and just make money in general.
Even the superficial analysis of those conflicts enrage me (trust me, we could delve much deeper), but let’s go back to foreign influences. We covered the basics about the Filipino drug war, but Trump’s support of President Rodrigo Duterte is extremely suspect. Thousands have called for the inhumane slaughter to end, but Trump went out of the way to offer his support to Duterte, despite Duterte’s eagerness to kill 3 million drug addicts. He claimed that Duterte’s campaign was dealing with the problem in “the right way,” despite condemnation from the United Nations, Parliament of the European Union, and countless Filipinos in the country and abroad.
The mass murders occurring across the Philippines have not stopped the construction of a Trump Tower in Makati, the major financial district of Manila. According to Century Properties, Trump’s business development partner there, 94% of the condominiums have been sold. Hilariously enough, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump traveled to the site during the election campaign for a photo-op of the ground-breaking ceremony. Sidenote, Century Properties highlights Ivanka’s jewelry sales enough for it to have its own section on their website- another money-making venture for the Trump family. If previous Trump Tower figures are anything to go by, Trump’s children stand to make millions off this property during their father’s presidency. Their revenue from developers is rumored to be up to 25% from their business partner, Jose E.B. Antonio, the head of Century Properties.
Fun fact: Antonio was named as a special government envoy to the United States by Duterte recently. So President Trump would be discussing US policy with his children’s business partner. Considering how Trump allowed Ivanka to sit in on his meeting with Japanese leaders already, one can only imagine the crossovers that will occur with the Philippines representative. Even if Antonio steps down as the US envoy on behalf of Duterte, the Trump family’s investments in that building are directly tied to Duterte’s acceptance of their operations there. Trump, during his phone call with Duterte, even invited him to the White House- an honor that has yet to be extended to major US allies. Is Trump just protecting his family’s interests by ensuring he stays on Duterte’s good side?
Alright, there are a lot of assumptions in discussing the situation in the Philippines. So let’s stop working with the “what ifs.” Let’s talk about the blatant blackmail situation already happening.
The Trump Organization signed a multimillion-dollar deal with the Dogan Group back in 2008 for two Trump Tower buildings in Istanbul. Dogan Group, run by a wealthy, influential family, has given between $1 million and $5 million to the Trumps since the beginning of 2015 as per their branding agreement and financial disclosure documents show. Trump even admitted that he had a conflict of interest in Turkey due to this partnership. Jordan Libowitz, the spokesman for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government, even said:
“In terms of potential conflicts, Trump’s business in Turkey is certainly one of the biggest...With all the focus on ISIS and the Middle East, Turkey is a country that gets a lot of attention in the war on terror. And that’s not something you want to hear at the same time as ‘conflict of interest.’”
What’s worse is that, back in June, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the removal of Trump's name from the project due to this anti-Muslim rhetoric during his campaign. This would have been a huge threat to the revenue Trump’s family would get from licensing their name and brand there. Erdogan even told his associates later that he would impede America’s use of a critical Air Force base in Turkey if Trump won the presidency.
You might recall the attempted military coup in Turkey back in July. During the tense situation rife with potential for unspeakable violence, Erdogan managed to shut down the rebellion. He crushed the plotters and arrested more than 36,000 suspected protesters of his regime, and shut down 17 media outlets. He then went on to declare that the head of this attempted coup was a 77-year-old Muslim spiritual leader by the name of Fethullah Gülen, who has been living in Pennsylvania for several decades. Erdogan demanded that Obama extradite Gülen to face his charges in Turkey related to the uprising- and suffer the appropriate punishment. The Obama administration refused, asking for proof of Gülen’s involvement before extraditing him.
That is a completely fair request. However, Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, on the day of the US Election, published an op-ed in the Hill that read in part: “The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam. We should not provide him a safe haven...It is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.”
And now Flynn has been named as Trump’s national security adviser. It should also be noted that Flynn runs a consulting firm (read: lobbying) hired by a company with strong ties to the Turkish government. Almost immediately afterward, Erdogan stopped his criticisms of Trump and instead voiced public support. When the results had been announced on Nov 8, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim issued a statement:
“We congratulate Mr. Trump. I am openly calling on the new president from here about the urgent extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the mastermind, executor and perpetrator of the heinous July 15 coup attempt, who lives on U.S. soil.”
That same day, Trump spoke to Erdogan via phone call wherein he passed along compliments to the Turkish president from “a close friend” and his company’s business partner and senior official. That official, Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, is the son-in-law of Dogan Holding owner Aydin Dogan and was a key figure in the Trump Tower deal and development.
On Dec 1, Erdogan had his authorities detain Barbaros Muratogl, a 28-year veteran of Dogan who was the company’s representative in Ankara. This was done on the flimsy charge of maintaining links to Gülen, thus connecting the Dogan executive to the attempted coup. In the past, Erdogan has had clashes with the Dogan Group for being critical of him through their media operations, even imposing a $2.5 billion tax fine and calling for his citizens to boycott their newspapers and television stations. The supposed evidence Erdogan is using to hold Muratogl come from accusations from an editor at a competing newspaper.
Shall we connect the dots? Erdogan wants to punish Gülen for his association with the military coup. Obama refuses. Then someone in the Trump camp publishes an article calling for his extradition. Erdogan and Turkey then issues a statement congratulating Trump on his election victory, linking it directly to their desire for this extradition. During a phone call later that day, Trump shares praises and appreciation for a Turkish executive who works with his business partner, Dogan. Then suddenly a senior Dogan executive is arrested on vague charges with only circumstantial evidence. Should Erdogan continue to pressure Dogan and create more legal difficulties against the group, the Trump family’s revenue from the tower complex in Istanbul will be severely impacted.
Erdogan has something he believes Trump wants. And Trump has someone Erdogan desperately wants.
When Trump takes office on January 20, what’s to stop him from fixing this situation to benefit not only Erdogan, but also further his family’s financial interests?
Erdogan has already told his associates he believes he must keep the pressure on Trump’s business partner to achieve his agenda. Add that to Duterte’s belief of American approval for his frenzied slaughtering of Filipino citizens, and Trump’s presidency is beginning to look even scarier than originally thought. I haven’t even touched on Russia, China, and Japan.
Trump needs to make a decision quickly, especially after he canceled his news conference where he was supposed to explain what he was doing with his businesses before he’s sworn in. My guess? A genuine blind trust- involving an independent third party- to liquidate his business assets is never going to happen. Trump’s refusal to offer any sacrifices or information that may jeopardize his family’s brand and wealth speaks for itself.
Then again, I suppose ignorance, on Trump’s part, is bliss.