Critics see no end to foreign favors to Trump businesses

WASHINGTON (AP) — First came news that a Chinese government-owned company had signed on to help build an Indonesian project that will include a Donald Trump-branded hotel and golf course.

Then, days later, the president tweeted his administration would ease sanctions against a Chinese smartphone maker accused of espionage. "Too many jobs in China lost," he wrote.

Ethics watchdogs and political adversaries called last week's events a blatant case of Trump appearing to trade foreign favors to his business for changes in government policy, exactly the kind of situation they predicted would happen when the real estate mogul turned politician refused to divest from his sprawling business interests.

And they say that such deal-making will likely become business as usual, unchecked by a Republican-led Congress, court cases that could take years and a public that hasn't gotten too excited about the obscure constitutional prohibition on the president accepting emoluments, or benefits, from foreign governments without congressional approval.

"It's an issue that seems highly technical and complex, and is difficult to link to everyday lives," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who is heading up an emoluments lawsuit brought by about 200 or so members of Congress.

"But when you bring it home to the reason for the emoluments clause, namely to prevent conflicts of interest, so the president will act only for the benefit of the United States, not for his own self-interest, then people should understand that his taking that benefit compromises his priorities," Blumenthal said.

Such concerns have dogged Trump since he took office. His Washington hotel, just blocks from the White House, has become a magnet for foreign governments seeking to influence his administration, including groups tied to Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

Trump's financial disclosure last week showed the hotel took in more than $40 million in revenue last year. To allay fears of conflicts, Trump promised to give the U.S. Treasury the profits from foreign stays at his hotels, which came to $151,470. His company declined to say how that figure was calculated.

A Quinnipiac University National Poll released in March found that 57 percent of Americans believe Trump is not honest. Still, in the latest Quinnipiac poll last month, Trump's job approval rating stood at 41 percent, matching the highest mark of his presidency.

Shana Gadarian, a political psychologist at Syracuse University, said those who pay attention to politics tend to be more partisan and often set aside information they find inconsistent with their beliefs.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.