Trump’s Business Schemes Warrant Their Own Investigation

The many signs of flagrant corruption that surround the president and his associates demand a separate probe.

Andrew Kelly / Reuters

Roughly one year ago, Special Counsel Robert Mueller was charged with investigating any links or coordination “between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” as well as any “matters” or “federal crimes” that “may arise directly from the investigation.”

That probe now divides the right.

Conservatives like David French believe that the facts continue to justify its existence. As he noted last week in National Review, Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee have now confirmed that Russia attempted to aid Trump in the 2016 election, that Donald Trump Jr. “received a direct and unambiguous invitation to collude with Russia,” and that “he took the meeting.” What’s more, members of his campaign team, including Paul Manafort, George Papadopolous, Carter Page, and Michael Flynn, all interacted with Russia in ways that, at the very least, cry out for further inquiry. That demands a thorough probe that sets all relevant facts before the public.

In contrast, populist-right entertainers like Tucker Carlson, who hold themselves to lesser standards of intellectual honesty, say that the special-counsel investigation is a “witch hunt” created by a deep-state cabal of usurpers. And when the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York raided Michael Cohen’s office, talk-show host Sean Hannity complained, “Mueller basically back-doored his way into every single Trump business deal.”

That last talking point is striking.

Lots of Republicans repeat it. They insist an investigation into Russian links or coordination has no business delving into the business deals of Trump and his associates. To their narrow concern, one must remain agnostic. So far, the public lacks sufficient information to judge whether Mueller has pursued only matters arising directly from his investigation or somehow exceeded that mandate. If he’s exceeded it, that will indeed warrant criticism.

Still, it is striking how many Republicans are more concerned with the possibility that Mueller is exceeding his mandate than they are with glaring evidence that the president and some of his closest associates are crooked hucksters who saw the White House as their latest opportunity to earn money unethically.

The business dealings of Trump and his associates raise so many red flags that Congress should launch a formal inquiry into them independent of the Russia investigation—and voters should hold members of Congress who oppose such an inquiry accountable.

Consider all the facts that only a Congress in dereliction of its duty would fail to probe:

  • Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, set up a limited liability corporation under a pseudonym where he received millions of dollars from foreign and domestic interests with business before the government.
  • Cohen also “helped a major donor to Mr. Trump’s inauguration pitch a nuclear-power investment to the Qatari sovereign-wealth fund at a meeting in April,” The Wall Street Journal reports. According to The Washington Post, Cohen solicited $1 million from the government of Qatar in exchange for influence and access to the incoming Trump Administration. And Cohen’s financial transactions were generating so many suspicious activity reports that a gangster’s lawyer could hardly have raised more concerns.
  • According to the Associated Press, Elliott Broidy, a top Trump fundraiser, spearheaded “a secret campaign to influence the White House and Congress” with political donations, working on behalf of Saudi Arabia and the UAE—and against Qatar—with the expectation of getting a billion in business. At the same time, according to The Daily Beast, “he was also receiving the biggest payouts in the history of his company from the U.S. government.”
  • The same man was involved in a suspicious $1.6 million hush-money payment to a Playboy model that was facilitated in part by Michael Cohen.
  • According to the South China Morning Post, “A billion-dollar Indonesian property development with ties to US President Donald Trump has become the latest project in China’s globe-spanning Belt and Road infrastructure project,” and news that the project would benefit from $500 million in government loans from China coincided with Trump intervening on China’s behalf in a dispute with the Commerce Department. The affair seems to be a violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause.
  • Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., appears to be another violation.
  • In the years before Trump ran for president, his company somehow had hundreds of millions of dollars on hand for cash transactions inconsistent with both industry practices and how it had done business for its prior history. And a reporter from a golf magazine says that Eric Trump told him several years ago that they had all the investment money they need from Russia.
  • In Sunny Isles Beach, “over 60 individuals with Russian passports or addresses bought nearly $100 million worth of units in Trump-branded condominium towers in a part of South Florida known as Little Moscow. Among them were Russian government officials who made million-dollar investments and a Ukrainian owner of two units who pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of stolen property in a money-laundering scheme involving a former Ukrainian prime minister.”
  • According to Adam Davidson of The New Yorker, “One foreign deal, a stalled 2011 plan to build a Trump Tower in Batumi, a city on the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia, has not received much journalistic attention. But the deal, for which Trump was reportedly paid a million dollars, involved unorthodox financial practices that several experts described to me as ‘red flags’ for bank fraud and money laundering; moreover, it intertwined his company with a Kazakh oligarch who has direct links to Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. As a result, Putin and his security services have access to information that could put them in a position to blackmail Trump.”
  • According to The New York Times, “Federal prosecutors are investigating Kushner Companies, the real estate firm owned by the family of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, over its use of a program that grants visas to wealthy overseas investors.”
  • Trump promised voters that he would put his businesses in a blind trust. But the actual trust, which reportedly gives his sons control of his company, isn’t actually blind in any meaningful way; it allows President Trump to withdraw money from the company at any time; and the Trump Organization will not even release the full language of the document to the public.
  • Finally, Trump promised voters that he would eventually release his tax returns. But he lied. Having gotten elected, he has simply kept concealing them. What truth is it that he is so determined to keep the people from learning?

And there’s much, much more, some of it potentially influencing matters as important as the approach to regional wars that the Trump administration takes.

“Trump’s business empire provided the entire basis for his claim to be qualified to be president,” Jonathan Chait recently observed in New York magazine. “He managed to conceal the nature of that business empire by withholding his tax returns, and media scrutiny of his business dealings has still only scratched the surface. Those secrets carry alongside them national-security risks of unknown scale. The argument now put forward by the president and his defenders is that the FBI has no business exposing these secrets, which ought instead to remain locked in the vaults of Trump’s shadowy counter-parties.”

His defenders make that argument by focusing on Mueller’s mandate and arguing that his business dealings are beyond it. It’s up to the critics who are more clear-eyed about Trump’s corruption to stop allowing that evasion. It is time to press for Congress to investigate the dark black clouds of smoke billowing out of Trump’s business empire—and if a majority of its members refuse, it is time for voters to send the message that no legislator so irresponsible as to see all that smoke and decline to look for fire deserves the seat.