Trump Business Conflicts vs. The United States Constitution

After Donald Trump won the election, he was relieved to learn that there was no “United States law” that prohibited him from continuing to own his vast real estate empire.  He certainly was informed that all former presidents in modern times had divested themselves of their business and financial assets, creating blind trusts.  However, Trump declared he would not follow the “blind trust” route with his huge holdings around the globe that carried his name.   Instead,  he would turn over all business transactions to his two sons, Eric and Donald Jr., but retain ownership.  Since all members of the family are in contact in Trump Tower in New York City, this arrangement was viewed very skeptically by legal authorities as well as public critics.  Nevertheless, it was set up and has been in effect since January 20, when he was inaugurated as president.

Trump and his advisers had been informed that Article 1, Section 9 of the United States Constitution known as “The  Emoluments Clause” did spell out conditions that applied to his business holdings.  This significant clause restricts members of the government from receiving  “gifts, emoluments, office or titles from foreign states without the consent of Congress.”  The motive of the framers in l787 was clearly spelled out by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper 22.  They did not want foreign influence and enrichment to corrupt the elected officials in their young republic.  Although the republic is more than two centuries beyond l787,  the clause is still valid.  It applies to ALL elected officials, including the president.

Trump and his lawyers have chosen to ignore The Emoluments Clause” as his hotels,  golf courses and businesses across the world have brought in millions of dollars since he took office.  His first hundred days  have been focused  on power struggles amid top staff in the White House, signing Executive Orders, and failures of two Muslim Travel Bans and the Repeal & Replacement of Obamacare.  However, there has been press coverage of Eric and Donald Jr. opening The Trump International Golf Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and the Trump  hotel and condo project in Vancouver, British Columbia in February, 2017.  From their cramped offices in Trump Tower, the sons keep expanding the Trump empire, and the revenue continues to flow in from other countries.

At home, The Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. opened in September, 2016.  Since then, foreign leaders who visit the White House stay there, blocks away from their meetings with the president.   Eric summed it up when he said, “I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.”  It should be noted that Ivanka Trump now has an office, as does her husband Jared Kushner, in the West Wing as  “assistant” and “senior adviser” respectively.  She has set up a “blind trust “ for her successful retail businesses, but also continues to build new contracts in foreign  lands. When she met with President Xi of China at Mar-a-Lago in early April, she came away with three new trade mark brands in China for jewelry, handbags, and spa services.

On January 23, it was reported in the New York Times that “a team of prominent  constitutional scholars, Supreme Court litigators, and former White House ethics lawyers intends to file a law suit alleging that President Trump is violating The Constitution by allowing his hotels and other business operations to accept payments from foreign governments.” The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.   The legal team includes: Deepak Gupta,  Supreme Court litigator; Laurence Tribe,  Harvard constitutional scholar; Richard Painter,  ethics counselor for president George W. Bush; Erwin Chemerinsky,  dean of the law school, University of California, Irvine.  Gupta said of the case, “The framers of the Constitution were students of history.  They understood that one way a republic could fail was if foreign powers could corrupt our leaders.” The suit will ask  a federal court in New York to order Trump to stop taking payments from foreign government entities. The suit says such payments includes those from patrons at Trump hotels and golf courses as well as loans for his office buildings from certain banks controlled by foreign governments, and leases with tenants like Abu Dhabi tourist office, a government enterprise..  The suit will not seek monetary damages.

The next day,  the Justice Department announced it would defend the president in a lawsuit over The Emoluments Clause. The lawsuit was assigned to Judge Ronnie Abrams, appointed by President Obama.  Judge Abrams must decide first if the group that brought the suit, the plaintiff,  has “standing”.  That translates into having suffered  enough injury.   Progress on this important lawsuit has not been made public.

However, on April 19, it was reported that The Office of Government Ethics had received 39,105 public complaints and queries about the Trump administration ethics over the past six months. During the same six months after Barack Obama was elected in 2009, there were 733 complaints and queries.   The American people watch daily television and read newspaper articles about the Trump family  businesses around the world.  Thousands of women and men  marched on April 15 in cities and towns across the country to demand the release of his tax returns.   Walter Shaub Jr., chief of the ethics office says he and his team have been working hard to rein in “financial disclosures of administration appointees.”  Trump likes to boast that his cabinet has the “highest IQ’s ever. Perhaps.  What is known is that there are more millionaires and billionaires in his cabinet than ever before.

Epilogue: Donald J. Trump continues to own and profit from his world-wide business holdings.  He has visited Mar-a-Lago seven weekends to play golf, conduct foreign policy with world leaders,  and meet members who pay $200,000 to join and have a chance to meet the president of the United States. Alexander Hamilton –who warned that the republic could be corrupted by foreign influence —  would be dismayed by  a president who mixes personal business profits with governing, and his oath of office to protect The Constitution.

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Joyce S. Anderson

 

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Trump Reverses Foreign & Economic Policy

Donald J. Trump is the first president in American history never to have served in government or the military. Beginning with George Washington– through Barack Obama — each man had been elected to office before or had served his country with distinction as a military officer.  Trump, in contrast, was catapulted into the most powerful position in the world with neither preparation nor understanding of the complexity of the job.  His knowledge of the United States Constitution and the three branches of the federal government was minimal. At 70 years, he was a successful real estate business man and TV celebrity.  He brought with him, as all his predecessors had over the years, fixed ideas, habits and ways of dealing with the expectations of the American people.

The challenges have been increasing as Trump maneuvered through each day.  He used Twitter to communicate, sending out vivid tweets early each day.  As reporters followed him, he continued to call The Press  “the opposition”  or “the enemy” as he had during the campaign. Trump experienced major defeats when the first and second Muslim Travel bans were stalled by federal judges.  Then, the central promise of his campaign to Repeal and Replace ObamaCare failed in a dramatic flame out, pulled before a vote was taken to avoid a sure defeat in the House of Representatives.  Trump was quoted as saying in surprise, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated!”  He was learning about the other two branches of the federal government, The Judiciary and The Congress.  Now, in the first weeks of April, events that had been building across the globe exploded.  Here are the highlights of  what happened, and how Trump responded with reversals of previous policies and statements.

Syria. ..China…Russia…NATO.    In 2013 during the civil war in Syria, Donald Trump urged  Barack Obama repeatedly on Twitter: “Do NOT attack Syria…” after  Bashar al Assad dropped sarin gas on men, women and children near Damascus. Hundreds of Syrians died.  Obama then worked with Russia to compel Assad to ship all chemical gases to Russia for disposal.  In the first week of April, 2017,  Assad sent planes once more to gas and kill Syrian people.  Trump  spoke in the Rose Garden of watching children choke and die.  Then, he directed the Pentagon to bomb an airport in Syria in a “proportional” strike.  Some praised him for “acting presidential” with his rapid response.  Others questioned his bypassing Congress for necessary authorization.

During the same weekend the strike occurred,  President Xi of China was making his first visit to the United States.  Trump was hosting him and his wife at Mar-a-Lago , his Florida White House. During the campaign, Trump had described China relentlessly as the “currency manipulator”, accusing them of unfair trade deals. He said he would bring it up at the meeting. He also said he believed China could pressure North Korea to stop their nuclear build up.  During an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump said Xi reviewed the history of China and North Korea for him.  Then, he added,  “After listening for ten minutes, I realized that it’s not so easy. You know.  I thought they had a tremendous power over North Korea. But it’s not what you would think.”  Trump described the visit as one of “good bonding.”  He did not bring up currency manipulation, and Xi did not comment on the strike in Syria until he was on the plane returning to China.

Russia.   Throughout his campaign, Trump praised President Vladimir Putin.  He called him “a stronger leader than Barack Obama” and said he was “doing a great job.”  He had not criticized Russia’s annexing Crimea and moving into Eastern Ukraine.  Evidence that Russia interfered with the presidential election was not a subject he was interested in. Trump spoke of a possible reset toward a better relationship with Russia when he became president. He was flattered that Putin had called him “brilliant”, unaware that the word in Russian meant “flashy” and “showy”.

Relations between the United States and Russia shifted markedly after Assad gassed his people in Syria.  In an interview on April 12, Trump declared that Putin was partly to blame for backing Assad.  Later at the White House, he said that Russia had probably known in advance that Assad was going to use nerve gas against his own people.  He added that relations between the U.S. and Russia were at an “all-time low.”    Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Moscow for his first meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  After their two hour meeting, it was clear that agreement had not been reached  on facts related to the chemical gas attack in Syria, and Russian interference in the American election.  Tillerson also was granted a two hour meeting with President  Putin. The finale to his visit was a joint news conference  with Lavrov where they answered questions from reporters.  Tillerson sent a sober message when he said,  “There is a low level of trust between our countries.   The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this relationship.”

At the United Nations on April 12,  Russia vetoed a Security  Council resolution condemning the chemical weapons attack by Assad.   Trump’s reaction in D.C. on Fox News was very sharp. “Putin is backing a person, that’s truly an evil person  and I think it’s very bad for Russia. It’s very bad for mankind.  It’s very bad for this world.”

NATO.  Trump had been very critical of NATO throughout his campaign.  He declared the organization of 28 European countries “obsolete”, harping on the fact that many countries did not “pay their fair share” of money from their defense budgets to NATO.  He ignored the fact that after 9/11,  NATO countries sent troops to fight beside United States troops in the Afghanistan War.  Trump also criticized NATO for not focusing on terrorism.  On April 12, another important event occurred.   Jens Stoltenberg, the distinguished NATO secretary general met with the president at the White House.  At their press conference, it became very clear that Trump had completely reversed his former opinions and positions on NATO.  Standing next to Stoltenberg, he declared, “I said it was obsolete; it’s no longer obsolete.”  Senator Ben Sasse , Republican of Nebraska, praised Trump for his reversal on NATO.  He said, “Without NATO, the Soviet Union would be quarterbacking half of Europe today and Putin knows it.  NATO is the most successful military alliance in human history.  This was the right decision.”

Economic Policy Reversals.  Throughout his campaign, Trump denounced the Export-Import Bank a tax payer funded agency that gives loans to American exporters.   In August, 2015, he said, “ I don’t like it.  I think it’s a lot of excess baggage.  I think it’s unnecessary.”  He was siding with conservatives who didn’t want the government to finance large corporations.  By April, 2017,  Trump had completely reversed his thinking.  Perhaps it was from being in contact with the members of his Cabinet from Wall Street who had explained the economy in a new light. He told The Wall Street Journal, “ I was very much opposed to the Ex-Im Bank because I said what do we need that for IBM and General Electric. It turns out that, first of all, lots of small companies will really be helped, the vendor companies. But also, maybe more importantly, other countries give” such aid , and so “we lose a tremendous amount of business.”

Another reversal has occurred regarding Janet Yellin, the head of The Federal Reserve Bank.   During his campaign, Trump ridiculed her at his rallies and criticized her decisions “manipulating interest rates”.  He would declare, “Shame on her!”  and promise to end her tenure once he became president.  Now, he says he is considering reappointing her to another term as head of the Federal Reserve Bank.  Since the stock market has reached stratospheric heights, and his own assets have soared, Trump must have realized her leadership and decisions are very wise.

NAFTA.   Trump railed against the trade pact  throughout his campaign. In Michigan, he declared,  “ On day one, a Trump administration will renegotiate Nafta, and if we don’t get the deal we want, , we will terminate Nafta and get a much better deal for our workers and our companies. One hundred percent. “ This action never happened.

Epilogue:  Today is April 15. Thousands of Americans are marching on the official day associated with paying ones’ taxes to urge President Donald J. Trump to release his tax returns.  Ten thousand or more people are expected in the streets outside the White House.  It is long past time for him to “do the right thing” as all other presidents have done when they ran for office.  ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Joyce S. Anderson

Power Struggles, Intrigue & Changes at The White House!

On April 6,  The New York Times ran excerpts from Donald Trump’s interview with reporters Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush in the Oval Office.  His first interview had taken place at the Times offices early in his administration with the publisher and reporters asking a broad range of provocative questions. It had been available verbatim on tape for readers to pursue  The second setting gave the president a chance to be in charge, sitting behind the massive desk where he has  been signing  his raft of executive orders for weeks.  Flanked by his favorite gold drapes , Trump’s demeanor was described by Haberman on cable news as  “at ease, comfortable and in good spirits.”

Every interested citizen knows the president’s habits: Watching very early morning TV on Fox News. Scanning certain newspapers for headlines that catch his eye.  Responding by Twitter to pertinent subjects  without advisers’ feedback .  Some of his tweets have brought long lasting coverage by the news media.  Perhaps the most startling tweets came on March 4 when he accused President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower.  A month later, those unproven and widely denounced tweets still have not been withdrawn nor apologized for by the White House.

Trump’s current approval rating has sunk to 35 percent according to the latest Quinnipac poll.  He has suffered two major defeats: In the courts, where his Muslim Travel Bans are stalled, and in Congress, where The  House of Representatives failed to Repeal and Replace ObamaCare.  Perhaps, that’s why he agreed to the interview in the Oval Office, to project confidence and authority in the majestic setting.  Another reason may be the latest stories about chaos, power struggles and intrigue within the White House. For months,  reporters and cable TV panels discussed who was in and who was out among the Inner Circle.  Who had immediate access to the Oval Office: Vice President Pence.  Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff.  Stephen Bannon, chief strategist,  Jared Kushner, son-in-law and daughter Ivanka Trump.  Both family members have been elevated to ‘senior adviser’ and ‘assistant’ respectively with offices in the West Wing.  In the early weeks, it was evident that Trump wanted  Ivanka to be present when foreign leaders met with him for policy discussions.  His latest decision that Jared Kushner head key areas was a stunning assignment for a 36 year old man without government experience.  When Kushner joined the mission to Iraq this past week before Secretary of State Tillerson, it showed how much trust Trump placed in him.  He had already chosen Kushner to solve the deadlock between the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as supervising Veterans Affairs and other important challenges.

On March 4,  “Breaking News” was the removal of Stephen Bannon from the National Security Council, and the cabinet level “principals committee”.  Bannon had written himself onto the Council in the early weeks after the Inauguration.  He had also removed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence from the N.S.C. , demoted to sitting in when issues involved them.  When Lt. General H.R. McMaster became National Security Adviser after Mike Flynn was fired, he made the decision to remove Stephen Bannon and restore the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and director of national intelligence.

Bannon has been a controversial figure since he joined the Trump White House during the campaign.  He is known as Svengali with his combative alt-right style and Breitbart history of advocating “deconstruction of the administrative state”.   Bannon has been instrumental in selecting cabinet secretaries whose aim is to “destroy their departments”.  These included The Environmental Protection Agency,  Health and Human Services, Education, and Housing and Urban Development.   Bannon’s aim is to reduce or eliminate federal regulations in all agencies. He would liberate Wall Street from Dodd Frank regulations that protect American consumers, and The E.P.A. from clean air and clean water regulations that date back to the Federal Acts that established these protections decades ago.

Leaks from the White House revealed that Trump held Bannon responsible for the two Muslim Bans breakdowns in federal courts, and the collapse of the Health Care Repeal and Replace bill in the House of Representatives. When he sent Bannon to the House to rally the Freedom Caucus, Bannon threatened them to “Vote Yes or you will be stuck with Obamacare!”  That approach resulted in Speaker Paul Ryan coming to the White House the next day to persuade Trump to pull the bill rather than face the public embarrassment of a large negative vote. There had been another person allied to Bannon that General Mc Master had wanted to remove from office,  Ezra Cohen-Watnik, 30 year old senior director for intelligence programs.  That has not happened. Also close to Bannon is Sebastian Gorka, counterterrorism adviser, who founded an extreme right-wing party In Hungary in 2007.

Epilogue: When Trump decided to launch the”proportional” Tomahawk missile strike on Syria as punishment for President Assad gassing  Syrian men, women and children,  he and his top advisers were shown gathered at a long table at the southern White House in Florida.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other cabinet members were there as well as certain key advisors.  Jared Kushner was there.  Behind the table, in a corner sat a few others.  Among them was Stephen Bannon.

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Joyce S. Anderson

Trump Endangers America and The Planet!

Donald Trump was a Climate Change Denier in 2015 at a campaign rally in South Carolina when he stressed, “A lot of it is a hoax.  It’s a hoax invented by the Chinese.”  After the election, in an interview with The New York Times, he appeared to modify his position on climate change, saying, “I have an open mind to it.”  Trump did meet with Al Gore at Trump Tower before the inauguration,  as did his daughter Ivanka.  If that raised hopes, they were dashed when he appointed  Scott Pruitt as Secretary of The Environmental Protection Agency.  Pruitt  spoke on March 9, 2017 on CNBC on carbon dioxide and the environment, “No, I would not agree that it’s a contributor to the global warming that we see.”

On March 28 ,  Donald Trump signed an executive order to nullify President Barack Obama’s climate change efforts to reduce carbon dioxide pollution that was warming the planet.  Trump  was surrounded in the Oval Office by coal miners and company executives.  As he held up the document, he boasted to the miners, “C’mon fellas.  You know what this is? You’re going back to work.”  At the ceremony, Trump  directed the Environmental Protection Agency ( E.P.A. ) to start the long legal process of dismantling Obama’s Clean Power Plan.  The aim of the plan was to close hundreds of coal–fired power plants , freeze construction of new  plants and replace them with huge new wind and solar farms.

There was underlying irony in the theatrical rollout at the White House.  The coal industry is in irreversible decline due to cheaper natural gas and the tripling since 2008 of cleaner energy sources like wind and solar.  Jobs will not be available in the coal mines that are slated to close.   Jobs are growing  in the allied industries of wind and solar energy.  The economy is in the midst of  major industrial changes in different sections of the country.  Some critics questioned if Trump knew the facts about these changes and trends.  He has a history of not wanting to study important daily briefs, government documents and policies. He has said he gets the news from watching TV, and often sends early morning tweets based on the latest Fox News story before talking with his advisers.

Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, was the head of Breitbart News when it published,  “Climate Change: The Greatest Ever Conspiracy Against The Taxpayer.”  He is urging Trump to withdraw the United States from the  April, 2016 Paris Agreement that committed 174 nations and the European Union  to take action against carbon dioxide pollution.  The goal set for the United States, second only to China, the greatest polluter, is to reduce America’s green house  gases by more than one quarter below 2005 levels by 2025.   The Paris Agreement  was hailed as a major diplomatic achievement setting targets around the globe with President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry leading the effort over long months of difficult  complex negotiations.

China apparently, listened carefully to Trump’s climate change denial during his campaign.  After his inauguration, it became clear that China would act to take the lead from the United States.  In January,  China’s president, Xi Jinping said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that the Paris Agreement had been “hard won” and should remain in force.  “All signatories should stick to it instead of walking away from it, as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations,” he said.  On March 29, Global Times, the Chinese  state-run newspaper ran an editorial chastising the Trump administration for “brazenly shirking its responsibility on climate change.”  After years of the Obama administration urging and pleading with China to limit the use of fossil fuels to slow the warming of the planet, Trump’s words and executive order have given China the chance to become the world leader on Climate Change.

On March 31,  Michael Bloomberg, mega-financier and  former mayor of New York City wrote a stunning rebuke to Trump’s  rollback of environmental protections in The New York Times.   In “Climate Progress, Without Trump”, Bloomberg  explained what has already happened to energy markets in the country  and stressed the role that cities, states, businesses and consumers are playing in driving down carbon dioxide emissions.  Here are some of the main encouraging facts and trends:  More than 250 coal plants, almost half the total number in the U.S. have announced they will close or switch to cleaner fuel. After 1980’s,  coal mining began dynamiting the tops off mountains instead of men digging with picks and axes underground.  Jobs continued to decline when a decade ago, fracking was introduced , leading to cheaper natural gas  for energy.

A decade ago, coal was the source of half of American electricity production; today it is down to one third.  The cost of wind power has dropped to $20 dollars per megawatt compared to more than $30 per megawatt for electricity from many coal plants.

Consumers are demanding energy from sources that don’t poison their air and water.  The ongoing Flint crisis raised the public’s knowledge and concern throughout the country.  They learned what lead in polluted water and air could do to the health of their children.  Cities, where two thirds of the country’s emissions occur, are taking the lead against climate change. More than 130 American cities have joined the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.  They are expanding mass transit, increasing energy efficiency of their buildings,  creating bike sharing programs, planting trees and reviving parks.  Major corporations like Walmart and Apple  that had signed a pledge in 2015 to reduce their emissions, have reaffirmed their commitments . Anheuser-Busch announced their aim to reach 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.  Bloomberg industries has the same goal.  Federal policies on vehicle emissions  have been in effect in automobile companies in many states.  Enacted by President Obama, after he saved the auto industry, they have become a part of retooling nationwide.  It is very doubtful if companies will retool their plants once more to meet any projected changes from Donald Trump’s executive order.

Michael Bloomberg concluded his valuable article with strong words: “I wish President Trump and his administration would recognize the health, economic and environmental benefits of tackling climate change. But their failure to do so is not reason to be despondent. Thanks to forces beyond the Washington Beltway that have reached a critical mass, we should be more optimistic than ever about  our ability to lead – and win—the fight against climate change.”

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Joyce S. Anderson