On Monday night, President Donald Trump took a moment to praise an autocratic ruler—this time, not Russian President Vladimir Putin but Turkish President Recep Erdogan. In the aftermath of Turkey’s constitutional referendum, which significantly broadened the powers of the country’s president, Trump called his Turkish counterpart “to congratulate him on his recent referendum victory,” as well as to discuss military strategy in the Middle East. Critics soon seized on the call, not only because Trump appeared to be condoning an illiberal power grab that furthers Turkey’s transition from democracy into an authoritarian regime but also because it demonstrates how Trump’s business interests stand to impact his performance as president.
Trump and his team have for the most part denied that the president’s properties and other businesses around the world create conflicts of interest. But that’s not the case for Trump Towers in Istanbul. In a 2015 interview with Steve Bannon, at the time the executive chair of Breitbart News, then-candidate Trump acknowledged, “I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul.” That didn’t stop him from bringing up the properties, albeit obliquely, when he spoke with Erdogan shortly after winning the presidency in November: In that phone call, Trump relayed praise for Erdogan from one of Trump’s business partners in the region. Critics were quick to point out the conflict of interest after Trump’s most recent conversation with Erdogan, as well as to note a 2012 tweet from the president’s daughter Ivanka thanking Erdogan for attending the launch of Trump Towers in Istanbul.