Trump’s Conflicts of Interest (And What to Do)

TrumpI wrote already about the issues with how President-elect Donald Trump plans to establish management over his business interests while in office and the trouble that putting his children in charge presents. Essentially, the problem is that there’s supposed to be the removal of conflicts of interest so that the President can’t create or affect policy that would benefit him or his family personally.

But the issues go deeper than whether there’s a possibility of arms-length removal with his own family running his business. Much deeper. Here’s just one example.

Much of Trump’s assets are tied up in real estate, a lot of which is leveraged by debt. In one case, he has borrowed money – $300 million, in fact – from a foreign bank called Deutsche Bank. This is the same bank that is actively engaged in litigation with the U.S. Department of Justice over its involvement in the 2008 housing crisis, here in the states.

More specifically, the D.O.J. has levied a $14 billion fine against them for their involvement in issuing and trading subprime mortgage securities.

Why does this matter? The President of the United States is the primary executive charged with filling chairs within the D.O.J. in fact, the last three presidents have appointed between 300 and 400 judges during their times in office.

For some clarity, the DOJ actually is part of the Executive Branch, not the Judicial Branch. So the head of the Department of Justice isn’t the Supreme Court, but rather the Attorney General, which Trump also gets to appoint. His primary candidates for Attorney General are Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions. In his career as an attorney, Cruz was a lawyer advocating for client corporate interests, including defense of a Chinese firm that had been accused of stealing U.S. trade secrets. Sessions has received more than $450,000 in campaign contributions throughout his career from corporate banks, and approximately $900,000 in total from the private finance and financial services sector.

This doesn’t mean that neither Cruz nor Sessions could potentially act from a moral position with regard to pursuing the Deutsche Bank suit. But given Trump’s propensity for recruiting principally based on loyalty, and given his own personal interests in Deutsche Bank, it begs scrutiny and no small amount of suspicion.

Yes, this is dry, boring stuff. Yes, the connections are labyrinthine and sometimes hard to follow, but consider Trump’s employment of complex, arcane tax law to convert an epic business loss into and opportunity not to pay taxes for nearly two decades.

If we’re easily distracted by bombast, Broadway drama and the latest sound byte, we may well miss the the trues strategy, which could well be to bore us to death wit details, while delivering shock and awe in the media over matters of no lasting consequence.

Assume Donald Trump and his team are far smarter and more calculated than you may give them credit for. Assume that, every time you go into a rage about his latest Twitter war, you’re doing exactly what he wants you to do. And assume that a man who has made Billions in selling his own name knows a thing or two about public image and keeping people entertained.

Meanwhile the machinations of commercial politics grind on, with our collective futures as grist for the machine.

So what do we do?

First, if you’re a person of faith, pray or meditate. And not just for your loved ones and those you agree with; heed Jesus’ admonition and pray fro your enemies and those you perceive are your persecutors.

Second, if you’re a person of principle, hold those in power accountable. Stay focused. Understand the systems being exploited at your expense. And assume the circus you’re acknowledging before you in the popular media is there on purpose.

Finally, if you’re a person of action, do your part, where you are, today. Expressing dismay, rage and disgust may be personally cathartic, but may get you no closer to the ends you seek. Understand your influence in the culture, your call to change for the betterment of humanity and do the hard, unglamorous work of day-to-day justice- and peace-making.

Christian Piatt is the author of “Leaving A-Holiness Behind: From Pious Jerk To Not-So-Pious Jerk.” He’s also the founder and cohost of the Homebrewed CultureCast.   

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