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U.S. Foreign Policy for Sale? Behind the Trump Organization’s Vast Financial Network

September 15, 2016
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Kurt Eichenwald

senior writer at Newsweek and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. His most recent article for Newsweek is called "How the Trump Organization’s Foreign Business Ties Could Upend U.S. National Security." He’s the author of the books 500 Days and The Informant.

A sweeping new investigation has raised questions about the little-known Trump Organization and potential conflicts of interest should Trump become president. The investigation published in Newsweek magazine reveals the Trump Organization is a vast financial network that stretches from New York City to India, Ukraine, China, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey and Russia. It’s connected to Russian mining, banking and real estate billionaire Vladimir Potanin, who himself is closely tied to the Russian government. Trump’s frequent praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin has already sparked concern among national security experts about U.S. foreign policy under a possible Trump presidency. The report concludes, "If Donald Trump wins this election and his company is not immediately shut down or forever severed from the Trump family, the foreign policy of the United States of America could well be for sale." We speak with Newsweek senior writer Kurt Eichenwald, author of the new article, "How the Trump Organization’s Foreign Business Ties Could Upend U.S. National Security."


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: A sweeping new investigation has raised questions about the little-known Trump Organization and potential conflicts of interest should Trump become president. The investigation published in Newsweek magazine reveals the Trump Organization is a vast financial network that stretches from New York City to India, Ukraine, China, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey and Russia. It’s connected to Russian mining, banking and real estate billionaire Vladimir Potanin, who himself is closely tied to the Russian government. Trump’s frequent praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin has already sparked concern among national security experts about U.S. foreign policy under a possible Trump presidency. The report concludes, quote, "If Donald Trump wins this election and his company is not immediately shut down or forever severed from the Trump family, the foreign policy of the United States of America could well be for sale."

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the Clinton Foundation during the primary campaign, alleging, during Hillary Clinton’s term as secretary of state, she may have given major contributors to the foundation greater access. Clinton responded Wednesday to the Newsweek investigation with a tweet storm of 20 questions for Trump. Among the tweets, she writes, quote, "While refusing to release your tax returns, how will you confirm that you do not have dangerous financial ties to bad actors abroad?" and "If you were willing to work with Qaddafi—a known terrorist and dictator—is there anyone you aren’t willing to make a deal with? Who?"

Well, for more, we’re joined by Kurt Eichenwald, who is senior writer at Newsweek. His new report is headlined "How the Trump Organization’s Foreign Business Ties Could Upend U.S. National Security." He’s also a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and author of the book 500 Days, as well as The Informant.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Kurt. Why don’t you lay out what you found?

KURT EICHENWALD: Well, the Trump Organization is—and very simply, Donald Trump cannot be in any way connected to the Trump Organization and be president of the United States. It’s—you start that—you start right there. The Trump Organization has connections overseas through business partners—business partners who are undisclosed, business partners who are tied to foreign governments, who are tied to foreign criminals, who are tied to—who have interests that run contrary to the interests of American national security. And they are paying Donald Trump through subsidiaries, that in turn are sending the money to the Trump Organization, that is in turn going to Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: You have to be specific here.

KURT EICHENWALD: You have a circumstance where Trump is going to have to decide, to take a very simple example, whether he’s going to support his business partner who is paying him millions of dollars in Turkey or whether he is going to go against him so that we can keep the access to the air base there that’s part of the campaign against ISIS.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you be more specific, Kurt?

KURT EICHENWALD: I mean, we’re talking some very, very high-level issues—

AMY GOODMAN: Kurt, can you be more—

KURT EICHENWALD: —where there are financial conflicts.

AMY GOODMAN: Kurt, can you be more specific when you talk about bad actors and who exactly Donald Trump is doing business with?

KURT EICHENWALD: Well, let’s take his partner in Azerbaijan. This is a very easy one. The man is the son of a senior government minister who, American intelligence has concluded, is laundering money for the Iranian military. So, think about that for a second. Donald Trump’s business partner is family with a man that the American government says is laundering money for an enemy of the United States. You know, Donald Trump has tried to do business with Muammar Gaddafi. Donald Trump has done business with people who their governments are pursuing them criminally. And, you know, you end up in a situation where there are now governments, because of Donald Trump’s business dealings in their country, in Turkey and the UAE, also in a convoluted way in Saudi Arabia, where they say, publicly and privately, they’re not going to work with a Trump administration.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what about the points—

KURT EICHENWALD: And so, you know, we’re buying—we’re buying a pig in a poke here. We don’t know about this guy’s health. We don’t know about his businesses. This took me an incredible amount of time just to unwind 15 out of 500 partnerships.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Kurt, what about the two—

KURT EICHENWALD: You know, what are the rest of them? Who is he doing business with? They won’t tell anybody.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, in the article, you also talk specifically about the Trump Organization’s relationship with the South Korean company Daewoo, as well as the Indian property developer Rohan Lifescapes and other companies in India. Why are those relationships problematic?

KURT EICHENWALD: Well, with Daewoo, what you have is—you know, Trump has been going on in his campaign about how the South Korean government should pick up more of its military expenses and the South Koreans should be becoming a nuclear—a nuclear power. Well, if he pursues that policy, one of the biggest beneficiaries is going to be his business partner in South Korea, Daewoo.

You know, with India, you have a scenario where Trump’s business partners are directly interlinked with political—with two political parties there. They are—as a result, there is an issue that’s been created relating to India and Pakistan, because these are not two groups that get along well, and Pakistan, because of Trump’s anti-Muslim positions, already hates him. And so, you have a scenario where Trump has to make choices of: Is he going to put pressure on the Indians to benefit his partners, some of whom are in trouble there? Is he going to ignore his partners? Is he going to pursue an interest, you know, leaning toward Pakistan?

We have a mess of irreparable financial conflicts, where Trump’s position is just going to have to be "trust me." And given that his response to this has been an intentional effort at deception, I don’t see how anyone can trust him. What he says is he’s going to put his company into a blind trust. And people who don’t know any better will think that sounds good. A blind trust, what you do is you’re taking a portfolio of investments, turning them over to an individual who is independent from you, and then they’re trading the investments, and you don’t know what is in that trust. You can’t take a company and say, "I have now put my company in a blind trust." You know exactly what’s in the trust.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go to Donald Trump.

KURT EICHENWALD: It’s the company.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Donald Trump. During a Republican debate back in January, moderator Maria Bartiromo asked Trump about how he would handle his assets should he be elected president.

MARIA BARTIROMO: Mr. Trump, your net worth is in the multibillions of dollars and have an ongoing thriving hotel and real estate business. Are you planning on putting your assets in a blind trust should you become president? With such vast wealth, how difficult will it be for you to disentangle yourself from your business and your money, and prioritize America’s interests first?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, it’s an interesting question, because I’m very proud of my company. As you, too, know, I built a very great company. But if I become president, I couldn’t care less about my company. It’s peanuts. I want to make—I want use that same up here, whatever it may be, to make America rich again and to make America great again. I have Ivanka and Eric and Don sitting there. Run the company, kids. Have a good time. I’m going to do it for America. So, I would—I would be willing to do that.

MARIA BARTIROMO: So, you’ll put your assets in a blind trust?

DONALD TRUMP: I would put it in a blind trust—well, 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. But I would probably have my children run it with my executives, and I wouldn’t ever be involved, because I wouldn’t care about anything but our country. Anything.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Donald Trump months ago. But on Wednesday—that’s yesterday—Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America. She also was asked about a possible conflict of interest with the Trump Organization should Donald Trump become president.

IVANKA TRUMP: As a private business, we can make decisions that are not in our best interest. We’re not beholden to anyone, to shareholders. We can say, "You know what? We’re going to do less deals. We’re not going to do that deal, even though it’s a fine deal, it’s economically reasonable, because it could create a conflict of interest." And we’ll act incredibly responsibly. And my father already said that he would put the company into a blind trust, and it would be run by us. So he has been very articulate on that fact and outspoken. But this is so much bigger than another deal, and we all recognize that.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Ivanka Trump. Kurt Eichenwald, your response?

KURT EICHENWALD: They’re lying. I mean, you—they’re either lying or stupid. You cannot put a company into a blind trust. You cannot have your children running a blind trust. You cannot have people who are in a private company saying, "Well, I think this creates a conflict for national security." Is Donald Trump going to be sharing classified intelligence with the Trump Organization so they can figure out which one creates a conflict and which one doesn’t? Will they know that doing a deal, for example, in India is going to create a conflict of interest? How will they know? Who’s going to tell them? You know, we’re going to be relying on Ivanka Trump to decide whether or not America is going to have a president who is focused exclusively on the interests of the national—the national security interests of the United States? There has never been a scenario like this.

And it’s frustrating for me because, you know, I’ve been sitting here watching television and reading articles about what’s going on, and, you know, everybody’s hoopty-and-hawing about Dr. Oz getting, you know, a couple of pages from Donald Trump. And, you know, members of the press are spending 15, 20 minutes on TV talking about "Wow! This is ridiculous. Why would anyone cover this?" And then you get to, you know, topics that are important and that are meaty, and they let members of the Trump Organization go on TV, tell—make statements that are completely irrational and false, and move back on to Dr. Oz or Hillary Clinton’s hangnail or something like that. I mean, this—

AMY GOODMAN: How would Donald Trump releasing his tax returns, something he still refuses to do, let us know about the Trump empire?

KURT EICHENWALD: It actually wouldn’t do it. That’s the problem, is that the Trump—releasing the tax returns would let you know how much money is coming through the partnerships into the Trump Organization to Donald Trump. It would tell you his charitable contributions. It would tell you his marginal tax rate. But it would not tell you who are those entities doing business with. And, you know, in the end, what Donald Trump needs to release is not just his taxes; we need to see all of the taxes, all of the partnership relationships. You know, who are the people who are lined up that he is beholden to, that he goes into office knowing he’s beholden to? He’s not going to go into office and suddenly forget who all of his partners are right now. And so—but is there any chance that will happen? Of course not. I mean, we’re—

AMY GOODMAN: Kurt, your piece is so extensive, we’re going to ask you to stay for a few minutes after the show. We’re going to continue to talk about, well, what Donald Trump says about the Clinton Foundation and how it compares, also his role in Russia and how that might be determining his views of President Putin. We’re talking to Kurt Eichenwald, senior writer at Newsweek and contributing editor at Vanity Fair. His most recent piece, which we’ll link to at Newsweek, "How the Trump Organization’s Foreign Business Ties Could Upend U.S. National Security." He’s the author of the books 500 Days and The Informant.

And that does it for our show. Happy birthday to Sam Alcoff.


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