Donald Trump's conflicts of interest scandal 'will eventually be too much to take', Obama's ethics lawyer says

Rachael Revesz
The President has been accused of violating the US Constitution by accepting foreign emoluments: Reuters

A top ethics lawyer said Donald Trump’s conflicts of interests will become “too much to take” after they are challenged in court.

Norm Eisen, who was chief ethics counsel under former President Barack Obama, told The Independent that every decision the President makes is motivated by financial gain – including which countries to include on his travel ban executive order.

“Eventually the scandal [of conflicts] will be too much to take,” said Mr Eisen.

“One never hopes for scandal but in this case the President is bringing it upon himself.”

Mr Eisen and Richard Painter, who was chief ethics lawyer under George W Bush, have filed a lawsuit which alleges the President has conflicts of interest after he failed to liquidate his businesses and place the assets in a blind trust. The lawsuit alleges he violated the US Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments clause, for example, when he hosted foreign diplomats at his new hotel in Washington DC. Mr Trump’s reply to the case is due on 21 April.

He still stands to benefit financially from the business after he leaves the White House. The President is the sole beneficiary of a trust, run by his oldest son and a longtime associate, which he could revoke at any time.

“I do think the President has a conflict which is expressing itself in his choice of countries [in the travel ban],” said Mr Eisen.

“It’s continuing to do so. Every decision he makes is overshadowed by his conflicts and that’s why he should divest from his businesses. Period.”

InsideGov | Graphiq

The price of drinks at his new hotel in Washington DC has reportedly increased significantly since it opened last September. His sons, Donald Jr and Eric Trump, have opened new hotels in Dubai and Vancouver since their father’s Inauguration, and told The New York Times that the Trump brand is “the hottest it’s ever been”. The initiation fee to join the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, named the “Winter White House”, where the President has spent several weekends, has recently soared.

The President’s motivation for choosing the six countries to include in his newly-reworded travel ban – Iran, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Somalia – will more likely be featured in lawsuits which challenge the constitutionality of the executive order than in the lawsuit from Mr Eisen and Mr Painter.

Asked how much the travel ban was motivated by racism and business interests, Mr Eisen replied: “I believe the predominant motivations for the ban are illegitimate, but I’m unable to isolate the different strains of the unsavoury virus that produced this legal inflammation.”

The original travel ban, signed in late January, was struck down by a federal judge in Washington state for being unconstitutional. Mr Trump’s emergency appeal was denied. The ban was re-written, taking Iraq off the list and scrapping the indefinite suspension of Syrian refugees. Green card and visa holders were no longer affected.

Several states have already indicated they will sue, joining Washington state’s original effort.

Mr Painter told Business Insider that the six countries still on the list are “quite poor and have no dealings with the Trump Organisation”.

“This is a very serious conflict of interest and where this is going to come up is when the travel ban is challenged in court as lacking a reasonable basis,” he said.

He argued that lawyers would have a strong argument that the ban is arbitrary, with no link to the national interest and no basis to stop terrorism, as countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, from where terrorists have come to the US, are not on the list.

A recent study from the Cato Institute found that nobody from the original seven, and now six, countries impacted by the executive order have killed a single American on US soil as part of a terrorist attack since 2001 and no Syrian refugee had even been charged with the intent to carry out such an attack in more than four decades.

However, Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan all have dealings with The Trump Organisation and they are not impacted by the ban.

“So, this is going to create serious constitutional due process issues for the government when they litigate to defend the travel ban, and that’s going to be on top of, of course, the first amendment free exercise or religion claims that will be made because there is still abundant evidence that this travel ban is targeted at Muslims,” Mr Painter added.

The President also insisted this week that his tax returns are still under audit and will not release them. Mr Eisen said his taxes have become a “hot controversy” as they could reveal evidence of financial dealings between him, his aides and the Russians, which the President has denied.

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