On Thursday, 11 Democratic senators (why 11? What’s wrong with the rest of them?) sent President Trump a letter demanding information about Trump’s and his company’s ties to the Saudis. They note that Trump’s refusal to reveal and to divest himself from his business interests “raise significant concerns about financial conflicts of interest.” They demand all documents and available information relating to “investments, payments, or other financial transfers” between Trump and the Saudis, and ask about any gifts or discussion of Saudi business deals since Trump became president. They also inquire whether Trump’s companies would sever ties with the Saudis if the latter are found to have committed gross human rights violations. That’s a not very subtle way of pointing out that Trump may have a direct financial stake in applying Magnitsky Act sanctions to the Saudis, given that it would put him and/or his company in violation of U.S. law if Trump kept doing business with the kingdom.
The letter encapsulates precisely why Republicans should not be in control of Congress. For starters, Trump never should have been permitted to retain business ventures, raising a potential violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause and certainly the appearance of a conflict of interest. Neither the GOP House nor Senate has held a single hearing on the subject of emoluments nor made any demand for Trump’s financial records, let alone his tax returns. Since Republicans control the floors of both the House and Senate and the power of subpoena, Trump has been able to escape any inquiry into his finances and thereby avoid accountability. As a result, the American people — and the rest of the world — are left to ponder if Trump’s bizarrely muted reaction to the apparent grotesque murder of Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi is the result of stupid policy or financial self-interest (or both).
Needless to say, no Republican is demanding any transparency from Trump or from his son-in-law Jared Kushner. As they have been from day one of this presidency, they shield the president from inquiry, utterly failing to live up to their obligations to the Constitution and their constituents.
On Sunday, during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was asked if Trump’s financial ties played a part in his reaction to Khashoggi’s disappearance. Rubio blithely declared that “I don’t have any reason to believe” this was the case. That is because he and other Republicans have never bothered to inquire, and never insisted that Trump disclose and then divest himself. Rubio’s response conveys a complete lack of concern for performing his constitutional oversight duties — even when a constitutional violation and human rights atrocity are at issue. Rubio is not alone; he’s symptomatic of the passivity of his fellow Republicans.
Trump told Fox Business Network on Wednesday: “We’re not going to walk away from Saudi Arabia. I don’t want to do that.” Is that because he foolishly built a Middle East policy based on a misreading of Saudi Arabia, or is it because he hates to walk away from Saudi money? In any event, he’s already signaling he doesn’t want to find out if Saudi leaders knew something. (“I hope that the king and the crown prince didn’t know about it. That’s a big factor in my eyes.”) Gosh, if he found out the unvarnished truth, he might have to react appropriately.
If voters want answers to whether Trump is making money from the Saudis and, more importantly, want to force him to sever financial ties, they better not leave Republicans in charge. They’ve already told us they don’t give a darn if he violates the Constitution or is influenced by his own financial considerations.