Trump meets Indian business partners, fuels more controversy over conflict-of-interest

NEW YORK, U.S. - While half of America is protesting against the man who would lead them come January, the other half is confident that the man they elected would stay true to the promises he has ...

• Trump met three of his Indian business partners at Trump Tower, partners said they discussed expanding Trump’s business in India

• His Indian business partners said they were elated over the new business opportunities a Trump presidency would create

• Trump faces difficulties in separating business and presidency

NEW YORK, U.S. - While half of America is protesting against the man who would lead them come January, the other half is confident that the man they elected would stay true to the promises he has made to the nation. 

Within the first week, Trump has not only expressed hesitation towards implementing some of his key campaign promises - but has also made moves that have begun to threaten his image as a commander-in-chief - who has the country’s best interest in mind, while making key decisions. 

In what is becoming a battle of Trump against himself - he is trying hard to break free from the conflict-of-interest tangle that he has been trapped in since being elected 45th President of the United States. Or is he? 

With a sprawling global business empire, that is stretched across 18 countries across South America, Asia and the Middle East - doubts have been raised about how his business has landed him in an ethical conundrum that no other President in the 200 years of history of the United States has faced.  

Many of the countries where Trump’s business empire is flourishing have sensitive diplomatic relations with the U.S.

In such a situation - how will Trump-the-President separate himself from Trump-the-businessman?

Richard Painter, a former chief White House ethics lawyer has said, “There are so many diplomatic, political, even national security risks in having the president own a whole bunch of properties all over the world. If we’ve got to talk to a foreign government about their behavior, or negotiate a treaty, or some country asks us to send our troops in to defend someone else, we’ve got to make a decision. And the question becomes: Are we going in out of our national interest, or because there’s a Trump casino around?”

Presidents usually put their finances into a blind trust, letting an independent third party handle their money so they can't use their power for personal gain. 

Trump’s decision to instead let his kids - Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka - handle his organization has raked up a storm that has threatened to consume his position. 

Further, with the Trump campaign also simultaneously announcing after the election that all three of his children would serve on the executive committee of the president-elect’s transition team - his opposers are not merely furious - they are appalled.

In that role, the trio is seen to have crucial input when it comes to the people Trump picks for key administration posts.

Following his election, Trump had assured that he would distance himself from his businesses - but with Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who runs his businesses, being present during the meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite the lack of proper security clearance - doubts have been raised about his intentions of sticking to his word.

To make matters worse, Ivanka’s jewellery company used her presence at the meeting as a promotional tool and sent emails to inform their customers that they could purchase the bracelet worth $10,800 that Ivanka wore at the ‘informal meeting’. 

Trump has further been fostering his family for the transition team as Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner has been the unofficial in-charge for all of Trump’s White House business.  

Soon after his unexpected presidential victory, reports revealed that the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC hosted an informative session for foreign diplomats, explaining how they could rent rooms during his presidency. 

One of the diplomats from an Asian country was quoted as saying, “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?’”

The Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, Noah Bookbinder said, “Donald Trump's children and son-in-law have been deeply involved in the transition and selecting who will be part of his administration. At the same time they are deeply involved in the business. There does not seem to be any sign of a meaningful separation of Trump government operations and his business operations.”

The Indian angle

Now, reports have revealed that the president-elect held a meeting with three of his Indian business partners, Sagar Chordia, Atul Chordia and Kalpesh Mehta at the Trump Tower in New York.

The three Indian business executives, who flew to New York from Mumbai to congratulate Trump on his win in the presidential election, are building a Trump-branded residential complex in Mumbai, which is one of the five luxury real estate projects planned in the country that have licensed the Trump name. Incidentally, Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump were also present at the meeting.

The meeting raised eyebrows across the media in the U.S. and India and reports raised doubts that Trump could use his position to advance his business interests. 

Breanna Butler, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization claimed, “It was not a formal meeting of any kind.”

The three business partners however added that Trump actually showed interest in expanding his business in India. 

One of Trump’s partners, Sagar Chordia told an Indian media house that he was “elated over the new business opportunities a Trump presidency would create.”

Neither Butler, nor Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks have commented on the nature of the meeting or the issues that were discussed.

The New York Times reported, “Washington ethics lawyers said that a meeting with Indian real estate partners, regardless of what was discussed, raised conflict of interest questions for Trump, who could be perceived as using the presidency to advance his business interests. There may be people for whom this looks OK. But for a large part of the American public, it is not going to be OK.”

Robert L Walker, former Chief Counsel of the Senate Ethics Committee, who advises corporations and members of Congress on government ethics issues, said, “His role as President-elect should dictate that someone else handles business matters.”

Vice President-elect Mike Pence has stressed, “Trump and his family would work with the best legal minds in this country and create the proper separation from their business enterprise during his duties as president of the United States.”

The next White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, said Trump would comply with the laws and have the White House counsel's office “review all of these things.”

He said, “We will have every 'I' dotted and every 'T' crossed, and I can assure the American people that there wouldn't be any wrongdoing, or any sort of undue influence over any decision-making. Donald Trump has been very clear from the very beginning that his family is very important to him.”

No doubt, the ethics committee is having a tough time figuring out what should be done next as many of them believe leaving the company’s management to Trump’s children would not truly separate Trump’s private and public work.

Trump himself has previously voiced his confusion, when he said, “I don’t know if it’s a blind trust if Ivanka, Don and Eric run it but – is that a blind trust? I don’t know.”


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