We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Ethics

A few days ago, I got an email from an old friend, asking me whether I’d seen the article about Trump’s myriad conflicts of interest in the most recent Forbes. I hadn’t.

He very thoughtfully brought me a copy.

After I had read it, I sat for awhile thinking about how diminished our expectations of presidential behavior have become. If any other President in my lifetime had simply ignored long-settled legal and ethical constraints in pursuit of personal gain, bipartisan outrage would have already triggered impeachment proceedings. (We wouldn’t need Robert Muller.)

The article is titled “Trump’s Towering Tenant Conflicts,” and it begins with the Bank of China.

The largest American office of China’s largest bank sits on the 20th floor of Trump Tower, six levels below the desk where Donald Trump built an empire and wrested a presidency. It’s hard to get a glimpse inside. There do not appear to be any public photos of the office, the bank doesn’t welcome visitors, and a man guards the elevators downstairs–one of the perks of forking over an estimated $2 million a year for the space.

Trump Tower officially lists the tenant as the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, but make no mistake who’s paying the rent: the Chinese government, which owns a majority of the company. And while the landlord is technically the Trump Organization, make no mistake who’s cashing those millions: the president of the United States, who has placed day-to-day management with his sons but retains 100% ownership. This lease expires in October 2019, according to a debt prospectus obtained by Forbes. So if you assume that the Trumps want to keep this lucrative tenant, then Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. could well be negotiating right now over how many millions the Chinese government will pay the sitting president. Unless he has already taken care of it: In September 2015 then-candidate Trump boasted to Forbes that he had “just renewed” the lease, around the time he was gearing up his campaign.

The meticulously sourced article is accompanied by lists of tenants at a number of Trump’s signature properties, the rents those tenants pay, and the conflicts of interest they represent.

The numbers are significant: $21 million here, $12 million there. The names even more so: At least 36 of Trump’s tenants have meaningful relationships with the federal government, from contractors to lobbying firms to regulatory targets.

Those “regulatory targets” are the most worrisome. Trump’s other “meaningful relationships” are simply corrupt, but these landlord-tenant relationships facilitate highly sophisticated bribery that undermines the federal regulatory process.

How, then, to consider the backroom discussions between federal officials and Walgreens Boots Alliance, one of the largest pharmacies in the world? Through its brand Duane Reade, it is the highest-paying tenant in Trump’s skyscraper at 40 Wall Street in New York, with $3.2 million in annual rent, according to a 2015 prospectus. In October 2015, Walgreens Boots Alliance announced a $9.4 billion merger with rival Rite Aid, requiring a sign-off from antimonopoly regulators. After the deal failed to secure approval under President Obama, it then fell to the Trump administration, which arrived in Washington during the first quarter of 2017. According to federal disclosures, that was the same quarter Walgreens Boots Alliance began directly lobbying the White House on “competition policy issues.” In September, despite objections by one of the two commissioners at the Federal Trade Commission, Trump’s tenant got the green light for a slimmed-down, $4.4 billion version of the deal. In January, Trump announced he would nominate the commissioner who supported the deal, Maureen Ohlhausen, to be a federal judge.

This was anything but an isolated case. Capital One, for example, pays an estimated $1 million for space in Trump’s Park Avenue condo building while it is being investigated by the Justice and Treasury departments for alleged money-laundering.

In December, Trump tenants UBS, Barclays and JPMorgan, plus Trump lender Deutsche Bank, got waiver extensions from the Department of Labor that allow them to avoid part of their punishment for illegally manipulating interest rates and foreign exchange rates.

The article cites numerous similar “coincidences” –at best, they raise the appearance of impropriety; more likely, they really do represent the sort of graft engaged in by a blowhard who has always believed the rules are for other people.

Whether these unprecedented conflicts violate the Emoluments Clause will eventually be decided by a court–two cases raising the issue are pending. Of course, those who drafted the Emoluments Clause language would never have anticipated that the new country they were establishing–their “Shining City on the Hill”– would elect someone as unfit for public office–or for that matter, as unfit for polite society–as Donald Trump.


  1. Voters on the left rejected Hillary Clinton because of her ties to Wall Street and the shady dealings at the Clinton Foundation. The right doesn’t care that their man is also a corrupt con man.

    That’s the problem–corruption and deal making has taken over the public sector–OUR government. All levels.

    We throw stones at Russia, but I heard some biblical story about casting stones at others aren’t wise when you live in glass house.

    The Democratic Party rigged the primary election against the honest politician because Bernie knows the game, but doesn’t play.

    The Swamp is capitalism–the love of money. Until we drain the source of our problems as a country, it will only get worse. The students in Florida got a very good lesson that money controls our government and politicians serve their Donors, NOT the people.

  2. 5th Avenue mafia! Nothing but international gangsters in designer clothes. A horrid human being who got the presidency by doing it dirty. Supporters who have been spun and duped and dragged to the bottom who have yet to awaken to the damage done to them and their families.

    These revelations do not surprise, only confirm what some of us could see from the beginning of this terrible era… an era which now seems to be the culmination of the decades of greed that the country wallowed in since Reagan.

    I do not know how this will end… but it won’t be pretty.

  3. obviously,we now? see how corprate america works,and its been passed onto the white house,with congresses very own mindset. if you havent paid attention to the last 35 years of this buildup, then obviously,your not paying attention. ignore the headline news,focus on the whole story,the money,and who wants,what. with the latest colums on wall street,mergers,cutting down the working class,frozen wages(guess who demands that?)and fringe benifits..banks that are too big to go to jail,etc. if all this is new,you have been living too large,and you forgot about what America ,,,was….

  4. Nothing is surprising or shocking anymore.

    45’s supporters could be given evidence of his shady and corrupt dealings every day and they would react with hatred toward Hillary and Obama. They will continue to support him while he empties their bank accounts and when they have nothing left they will blame Obama.

  5. Todd – capitalism = the love of money?? Sorry, but greed will be present no matter what the economic system. What is missing is ethics and oversight, on a grand scale.

  6. (NUAC) National Union of American Citizens: 240 million members; 28.8 billion dollars in its treasury and growing by 6 billion dollars every year; imagine the power to set things right in every government entity in America.

  7. we have the signatures,we have the documents,we have the facts, if we refuse to see that the next election is do or die for democracy,then we never supported it. we look back and ask why,so many died for this fondation,for our way of life. we have been run over by wall street,and those who depend on it for their way of life,have only to look upon the rest,and say, shut up,keep working,im doing just fine….”

  8. I’m really interested in the cases that have been filed regarding violation of the “Emoluments Clause”. They will tell us, in no unvertain terms, where the Constitution stands in America today.

  9. Quid pro whatwasthatagain? For whatever the right (and Democrats taken in by Russian social engineering) think the Clintons were up to, they’d be mere pikers by comparison. The vulgarian and his enablers are even making the Grant and Harding administrations look like laughable amatures at the corruption game.

    But, what else can we expect from the Grifters, Oligarchs, and Plutocrats?

  10. League of Scrupulous Billionaires (LSB) Buys Controlling Interest in Remington, Smith and Wesson, Glock and Springfield, Four of America’s Largest Gun Manufacturers.

    Led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, Monday morning’s takeover by the League of Scrupulous Billionaires (LSB) of four of America’s largest gun manufacturers shook Wall Street and the National Rifle Association. In a telephone interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Warren Buffett said, “We are not going to shut down these businesses, but we will certainly run them more responsibly than they currently operate. Our first order of business is to sever ties to the NRA.” Asked if NSB intends to buy more weapons manufacturers, Buttett said, “That’s up to them; be responsible or lose your golden goose.”

    In other news…

  11. From my Webster’s Dictionary for Students: ethics; 1. a branch of philosophy dealing with what is right or wrong, 2. the rules or moral behavior governing an individual or group.

    ethnic; of or relating to groups of people with common characteristics or customs

    This puts the 1% in their own ethnic group so they are simply carrying out their inborn instincts to rip off the 99%…and all this time I have been thinking it is avarice and greed. They simply can’t help themselves. Of course, I have also heard “ethics” defined as doing the right thing when no one is looking, obviously we overlooked something(s) to reach this point.

    Considering only the bank tenants in Trump’s vast real estate holdings; they all eventually work their way down to some level of connection to the banks we patronize and rely on to protect our money; however meager or vast. The fact that the interest rate paid out by most banks on savings accounts and CDs, which this particular investor has in PNC Bank, earns a paltry .40% on both while PNC Bank invests my money in their name to earn much higher interest rate and increase their holdings. There appears to be no cap on the interest they charge for credit and/or debit cards or loans. When you get down to where the cheese binds; all of us in my position who use banks are sooner or later, in one way or another, paying those rents to Trump. But mayonase jars or hiding money under our mattresses pays no interest at all.

    This did not begin with Trump – nor will it end with Trump, in or out of the White House. Bill Clinton signed the final death knell to bank regulations when he repealed the few remaining protections contained in the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. George W. took full advantage of deregulation and ran with it; but with Bill and George W. it is simply to be expected of those in their ethnic group.

  12. The danger to our democracy grows daily. Today’s blog is just another “brick in the wall” toward our demise. The old saw: “…absolute power corrupts absolutely.” is now the centerpiece of the Trump administration. Yes, corruption HAS been going on in our country for decades, if not centuries. The difference today is that the watchdogs and oversight of corruption are being diminished, attacked and kicked to the curb by the “absolute power” of this president and those who benefit from is total and abject corruption.

    As we’ve discussed before, the sloth of voters has allowed our form of regulated capitalism to be hijacked by the money changers. Republicanism has morphed from an actual conservative movement into a radical, neo-fascist entity predicated on corruption. This has happened before, in history, and the outcomes are usually talked about as revolutions or civil wars. When the poorer classes get hungry enough or have their faces stoved in often enough, they will rebel.

    It’s sadly true that Clinton was compromised by is dalliances and the drooling wolf, Newt Gingrich pounced on him giving us the Gramm-Bliley Act that overturned Glass-Steagall. From that moment forward it was a mad dash toward destroying our controls over our own greed. Capitalism, left to its own devices, is compelled to do this. Ethical people know this. Today’s Republicans don’t care. Most voters don’t know what the hell we’re talking about.

  13. You reap what you sow, and we have sowed the bad seed of corruption and greed with our failure to hold this buffoon to account and seem to have no one (other than Mueller) who will (we hope) stand up to this vile libertine who is destroying what we thought America stood for. We have become ATMs in Trump’s playhouse , unable and/or unwilling to reverse his Bannon-inspired “deconstruction of the administrative state” (aka government).

    Trump is playing us like a drum with his daily atrocities and Lakoffian framing and is not really interested in the presidency other than using it for a springboard to make money, as the Forbes account suggests. As Marv sometimes informs us, the race is on to see if our democracy can last long enough to be saved, and we will know more about that some eight months from now in an election that may well determine whether we can rescue our democracy or surrender our birthright to life in an authoritarian state.

    Given the stakes, this may be the most important election we have had since 1932, so, as the old saying goes, let us not become weary in well doing. If politicians won’t hold this Putin-adoring wannabe dictator accountable, then we the people must end this insanity come November, so let’s get on with it – and persevere.

  14. Very often here the conversation wanders to many of the highly corrosive forces eating away our country but to put a stop to it we need to focus on the root cause. That simply is brain washing propaganda delivered non stop to the most receptive among us in order to buy their votes. As long as people can set up their place of residence in a way that replaces real news with incessant fake news they have no idea how much is wrong or their role in creating it.

    It is indeed a tough problem to solve in a freedom based democracy. How can that exist when fake news can be on an equal footing with real news?

    We know that whatever that answer is we will only find it when we can return control of the country to those who care about it as it was conceived to be.

    As I certainly have proposed before at this point there seems to be only one strategy showing any promise to accomplish that. All Ds in ‘18 and ‘20.

    Let’s get to work.

  15. Gerald,

    “As Marv sometimes informs us, the race is on to see if OUR DEMOCRACY CAN LAST LONG ENOUGH TO BE SAVED, and we will know more about that some eight months from now in an election that may well determine whether we can rescue our democracy or surrender our birthright to life in an authoritarian state.”

    I agree on the importance of the election in eight months, but I still firmly believe that effective action must be taken before that time in order to make sure OUR DEMOCRACY CAN LAST LONG ENOUGH TO BE SAVED.

    The Republican Party has “mud on its face” because of its involvement with the NRA. The Democratic Party didn’t throw the mud, a bunch of kids did. Now Trump is caught in the middle. I know for a fact there is still a lot of mud to be thrown before November; maybe even a “pie in the face” where Donald Trump is concerned.

  16. I decided to take a look at the personality traits of dictators. There is an article long before the Trumpet (aka Agent Orange) became president from 2011. The Mind of a Dictator by James Fallon Ph.D. provides some insight.

    Among the traits he listed: They are usually charming, charismatic, and intelligent. They brim with self-confidence and independence, and exude sexual energy. They are also extremely self-absorbed, masterful liars, compassionless, often sadistic, and possess a boundless appetite for power. These are just a few of the character traits present in a genuine psychopath.

    Somewhat predictably, dictators do not relate in a normal manner to other people in a person-to-person, empathetic way. They may associate themselves with “people” as a whole or “people” in a tribal or abstract pan-world sense . https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-psychopath-inside/201111/the-mind-dictator – This character flaw is on full display when you see Agent Orange dealing with other world leaders one on one.

    In article elsewhere the following:
    With regard to dictators, one particular trait that consistently stands out as relevant is narcissism. Narcissistic individuals have a “greatly exaggerated sense of their own importance” and are “preoccupied with their own achievements and abilities.” They see themselves as “very special” people, deserving of admiration and, consequently, have difficulty empathizing with the feelings and needs of others.

    I suspect lurking in Agent Orange’s heart is the belief that all the corruption in him and around him is a positive trait since it enriches him monetarily and he becomes a central figure in doling out favors (deregulation) to his supporters .

    We see in the Trumpet (aka Agent Orange) adolescent behavior of name calling on an individual basis: Little Marco, Lying Ted, Little Rocket Man and Crooked Hillary. Agent Orange goes further with verbal attacks on his non-base, that is minorities. This appeals to Agent Orange’s base and to Reactionary Theocratic Republicans. Agent Orange becomes a hero to the base. Civilized behavior in words and deeds is seen as a weakness.

    Another piece of Agent Orange, he hates successful performance or dissent in others as it diminishes him. Thus, he is always in an attack mode.

    The lies Agent Orange has told are simply to numerous to list, but here are few: Mexico will pay for the wall, he will repeal and replace the ACA health care plan and replace it with his own that will work (we are still waiting for it), Agent Orange’s inauguration crowd was bigger than Obama’s.

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