2 Months In, Trump May Already Own A First: Most Corrupt POTUS. Ever.
Ethics experts cannot think of a predecessor more ready to use the prestige of the office for personal gain.
"“He should not use his official position to promote his businesses. That doesn’t make him a good businessman. That makes him a bad president,” said Richard Painter, the former top ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush’s White House.
Trump’s White House did not respond to emails for this story. And even some of his usual defenders declined to do so on this topic. “It’s the full employment act for people who write about ethics,” said one former campaign official on the condition he could speak anonymously.
Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based GOP consultant who often defends Trump, said he couldn’t really offer a sincere defense on this one. “I think he enjoys being at his own properties. He has pride in them. He is comfortable in them. He feels he has a level of control over them,” he said. “Should he not be allowed to go to his own properties?”
He should not use his official position to promote his businesses. That doesn’t make him a good businessman. That makes him a bad president.”
— Richard Painter, former top ethics lawyer for George W. Bush’s White House
Trump’s behavior has no precedent, going back to at least the turn of the last century, ethics experts say. Even in the presidency most often associated with open corruption, it was Warren Harding’s Interior secretary, not Harding himself, who had taken bribes in the Teapot Dome oil lease scandal.
Presidents in recent years have taken care to place their assets in blind trusts, to eliminate possible perceptions of conflicts between their personal interests and those of the United States.
“I don’t think any president in modern history has had a serious conflict,” Painter said.
At a Jan. 11 news conference, though, Trump declared that the president of the United States was legally incapable of having any conflicts of interest, and that, if he chose to, he could serve as president while also running his businesses.
Rather than place his assets in a blind trust – in which he would not even know what holdings he owned, let alone be able to control them – Trump merely turned over temporary managerial control to his adult sons. And they, in turn, have been aggressively marketing the Trump brand abroad, taxpayer-provided Secret Service contingents in tow.
Eric Trump earlier this month even boasted about how well it is going. “I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been,” he told the New York Times.
Meanwhile, the family of his brother-in-law and top White House aide, Jared Kushner, is reportedly negotiating a deal with a Chinese firm that analysts are calling unusually favorable to the Kushners. It would allow them to dramatically reduce their liability on a nine-figure loan on a Manhattan high-rise. At the same time, Kushner has emerged as Trump’s informal but possibly most influential foreign policy negotiator and has already met with Chinese leaders among others.
Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, has been the beneficiary of a different top Trump aide. Kellyanne Conway, reacting to news that department store chain Nordstrom was dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing line because of poor sales, in a TV interview from the White House briefing room urged viewers to take action.
“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” Conway told Fox News on Feb. 9. “I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer later said Conway had “been counseled” about her remarks – but Spicer himself had defended Trump’s involvement in the episode, saying he had every right to write angry tweets about Nordstrom because they picked on his daughter."