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Dec 13 2016

Has The Extortion Already Begun?

Has possible extortion of Donald Trump by foreign governments already begun? No, not the alleged Russian hacking of the DNC e-mails and speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin is manipulating Trump with undisclosed hacked information, although that is pretty bad. This is about Turkey, China and the Philippines where Trump has extensive business interests. Last night MSNBC host Rachel Maddow gave us a sneak preview of an extensive report by Newsweek‘s Kurt Eichenwald on how Trump may be already compromised by these foreign governments:

Given the vast scope of the clashes between the Trumps’ extensive business dealings and the interests of America, the president-elect vowed during the campaign to eliminate potential conflicts by severing ties to his company—yet, with only weeks to go until he takes the oath of office, he hasn’t laid out a credible plan. Trump’s sole suggestion to date—a “blind trust” run by his children—would not eliminate the conflicts, given that the money generated would still go to his family. [..] That is why foreign leaders hoping to curry favor will do everything they can to help Trump’s family erect more buildings, sell more jewelry and make money through any means possible. Even if the family steps away from its company while Trump is president, every nation on Earth will know that doing business with the Trump Organization will one day benefit the family. The only way to eliminate the conflicts—sell the company, divvy up the proceeds—has been rejected by Trump, whose transition team refused to respond to any questions from Newsweek for this article

Rachel explained that in Turkey where Trump has business interests in twin towers being constructed in Istanbul that will bear his name, the head of the company and an executive building the towers have been arrested on orders of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on questionable charges that they were involved in last summer’s attempted military coup. This is how Trump is effected:

“The day after our presidential election in this country, one of the world leaders who called up Trump tower and spoke with the president-elect was the president of Turkey,” Maddow explained. “And one of the perk up your ears strange things reported about that call is that while Donald Trump was on the phone taking that congratulatory phone call from the president of Turkey, in that same call, Mr. Trump brought up to the president of Turkey by name that executive from the Doğan company, the guy who was the key guy on Trump’s big twin towers in Istanbul.” [..]

“Now Newsweek reports that Turkey has figured out how to turn that to their advantage and how to put the president of the United States over a barrel in the process,” Maddow explained. “On December 1st, the top representative of the Doğan company, in Turkey’s capital city, got arrested by the Turkish police. Again, Trump as president-elect had taken an official call from the Turkish president and used that occasion to tell the Turkish president how much this one particular company meant to him, going so far as to name specific executives.” [..]

“Turkey desperately wants the U.S. government to extradite an imam [Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen],” Maddow explained. “They [the U.S.] have said that they are not extraditing him. But if that’s what you wanted, what if you could squeeze the personal financial interests of the American president as a way to get what you want from the American government?”

“I mean, the Trump family and the president-elect themselves, they stand to make millions of dollars from their relationship with the Doğan group in Turkey. That will stop if they get locked up,” she continued. “So they started locking them up. Nice leverage, right? It would be one thing if it was business leverage — but it’s leverage against all of us as Americans.”

Down in the Philippines, on December 2 Trump called strongman President Rodrigo Duterte allegedly to invite hm to the White house. Duterte claims that Trump endorsed his violent crack down on drug dealers. Travis Gettys at Raw Story gives a quick summary of Eichenwald’s report on Trump’s conflicts of interest there:

“The Trump family has an enormous financial interest in keeping Duterte happy,” Eichenwald wrote. “Trump Tower at Century City in Makati, Philippines, is on the verge of completion, with potential buyers having placed deposits on at least 94 percent of the condominiums, according to Century Properties, the Trump Organization’s business partner there.”

His sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, took part in a photo opportunity at the site during the presidential campaign, and their sister is selling some of her jewelry on the building’s website.

“The Trump family has an enormous financial interest in Duterte’s deadly campaign,” Eichenwald reported. “Rooting out crime in the Philippines is good for the real estate values.”

Trump agreed to put his name on the project in exchange for a multimillion-dollar payment up front, along with up to 25 percent of the developer’s revenue over a number of years.

Jose E.B. Antonio, the head of Century Properties, was recently named by Duterte as the special government envoy to the U.S. — which means Trump will be discussing Southeast Asia policy with one of his or his children’s business partners.

“The Trump family’s dealings in the Philippines will set off a constitutional crisis on the first day of Trump’s presidency, if anyone in the federal government decides to abide by the law,” Eichenwald wrote. [..]

“The man writing millions of dollars’ worth of checks to the Trump family is the Duterte government’s special representative to the United States,” Eichenwald wrote. “To argue that these payments will be constitutional if they are paid to the Trump children, and not to Trump personally, is absurd. This conflict demands congressional hearings, and could be an impeachable offense.”

Even if Antonio is removed as envoy, Duterte hold immense leverage over Trump, according to Eichenwald.

“Trump won’t simply forget that the Makati building exists, that the authoritarian Philippine president has the power to damage the Trump family’s financial interests there and that the protection of what is now a high-profile target for attacks is in Duterte’s hands,” he wrote.

Eichenwald also noted the strange telephone call to Taiwanese president breaking the “One China” policy that set off an international incident with China. According to Trump, it was a courtesy call from the president. It was later disclosed the former Sen. Bob Dole had arranged the call months before. To add to the mess, a Taiwanese mayor told the China Times that a representative, Charlyne Chen, from Trump’s company had visited her to express interest in building a hotel at a nearby airport and a Trump son would be visiting the end of the year, which, of course the Trump campaign has denied.

However, on November 24, Chen told Formosa Television that she had assisted the Trump Organization in the past to sell some of its properties in Las Vegas to buyers in Taiwan and Shanghai. As first reported in The New York Times, Anne-Marie Donoghue, who identifies herself on her Facebook page as a Trump Hotels Asia sales director, posted a photo from a visit to Taiwan in October, which she described as a “work trip”; this was one month after the mayor of Taoyuan said he met with Chen.

Trump was supposed to give a press conference on December 15 to explain how he would divest himself of his company and its holdings to avoid any conflicts of interest. That news conference was cancelled on Monday because Trump was too busy and needed more time to deal with cabinet appointments. However, according to Eichenwald, Trump cancelled it when he heard about the article. Since then Trump has announced via Twitter that he would have an announcement in January and that his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., would be running the country. He also tweeted that they would make no new business deals during his tenure. Needless to say, that does not resolve any of these serious conflicts. Trump has two choices: sell his companies or resign. Many of us would prefer the latter.