The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion In Donald Trump’s Washington, corruption will be utterly shameless

(Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

In ordinary circumstances, an incoming administration is sensitive to political controversies that might distract it or derail its agenda. Once one emerges, everyone is on notice to be careful about keeping the controversy from turning into an outright scandal. You certainly don’t want to repeat the same behavior that drew negative attention in the first place. The only question is how to make the controversy go away as quickly and quietly as possible.

But that’s not how the Trump clan operates.

For example, one of the most difficult questions for the incoming administration concerns the president-elect’s apparent intention to use the highest office in the land as a moneymaking venture, leveraging his political power into greater wealth for himself and his family. To that end, his new hotel in Washington has been encouraging foreign diplomats to give it their business, which the diplomats clearly understand as a way of currying favor with the president, or at least avoiding his displeasure. As one said in a story that The Post broke a month ago, “Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?'”

Donald Trump's many potential conflicts of interest, explained (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

Indeed, quite rude. And now we learn that the Trump Organization is amping up the pressure on foreign governments to put more money in Donald Trump’s pocket. Judd Legum and Kira Lerner of ThinkProgress have the details:

The Embassy of Kuwait allegedly cancelled a contract with a Washington, D.C. hotel days after the presidential election, citing political pressure to hold its National Day celebration at the Trump International Hotel instead.
A source tells ThinkProgress that the Kuwaiti embassy, which has regularly held the event at the Four Seasons in Georgetown, abruptly canceled its reservation after members of the Trump Organization pressured the ambassador to hold the event at the hotel owned by the president-elect. The source, who has direct knowledge of the arrangements between the hotels and the embassy, spoke to ThinkProgress on the condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to speak publicly. ThinkProgress was also able to review documentary evidence confirming the source’s account.
In the early fall, the Kuwaiti Embassy signed a contract with the Four Seasons. But after the election, members of the Trump Organization contacted the Ambassador of Kuwait, Salem Al-Sabah, and encouraged him to move his event to Trump’s D.C. hotel, the source said.

Defunding Planned Parenthood could be the GOP’s first big defeat of the new year

Meanwhile, Trump’s sons are showing their own entrepreneurial spirit. They just created a new nonprofit organization called the Opening Day Foundation and are soliciting contributions. Here’s what you get for a cool $1 million donation to the foundation, which is supposed to go to unspecified “conservation” efforts:

Prospective million-dollar donors to the “Opening Day 2017” event — slated for Jan. 21, the day after inauguration, at Washington, D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center — receive a “private reception and photo opportunity for 16 guests with President Donald J. Trump,” a “multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion for 4 guests with Donald Trump, Jr. and/or Eric Trump, and team,” as well as tickets to other events and “autographed guitars by an Opening Day 2017 performer.”  

That’s right: The day after he assumes office as president of the United States — when you might think his schedule would be pretty packed with presidenting and stuff — Trump will take time out of his day to hang out with people who ponied up a million dollars to his sons’ “foundation.” Now for all we know, this foundation will be a completely legitimate charity that will do extraordinary work to make the world a better place. But let’s just say that the family’s record on this score is less than encouraging.

You may recall how outraged Trump and pretty much every other Republican were at the idea that the Clinton Foundation — which actually does good work — could receive a large contribution from a donor who might at some later point have a meeting with the secretary of state. They described this as the absolute height of corruption, insider dealing so vile as to demand that Clinton be jailed at the earliest possible opportunity.

The Washington Post explores Donald Trump's transformation from a reality TV star to president-elect of the United States. (Video: McKenna Ewen, Whitney Shefte, Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)

Well, here you have the Trump sons straightforwardly selling access, both to themselves — let’s not forget that they serve on the transition team, are helping to select Cabinet secretaries and will continue to have their father’s ear — and to the president.

Dear Republicans: ‘Obama did it, too’ is no excuse

We have seen occasional glimmers of shame from the Trump clan — Ivanka Trump recently canceled a similar fundraiser, in which people bid as much as $72,000 to have coffee with the incoming de facto first lady. But on the whole, their approach to potential scandals has been to deal with them through complete shamelessness. This is another example of what I’ve come to believe is one of the central motivating forces behind Trump’s decisions: He believes he can get away with anything. When someone comes to him and says, “Sir, this could be a problem — we have to be very careful,” Trump is likely to respond, “Oh yeah? Why? What haven’t I gotten away with up until now?” The answer is: nothing.

(Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

And if anyone’s worried about legal consequences to turning the White House into an engine for the enrichment of the Trump family, Trump ally Newt Gingrich offered an answer yesterday: Trump can just allow his kids (or anyone else) to break the law, and then pardon them. Speaking of nepotism laws that prevent his family members from working in the administration, Gingrich said: “He could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anyone finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period.’ Technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.” That sounds like a man who understands how things are going to work in Donald Trump’s Washington.