All the Donald Trump conflicts of interest we know of so far — and why they're dangerous

ByJames Dennin

There are roughly a dozen examples — and counting — of situations that could open President-elect Donald Trump up to accusations that he is using his office to enrich himself once he assumes the presidency.

Unless Trump divests himself of his businesses, as Senate Democrats are demanding, those accusations could plague his administration from day one.

Trump-owned hotels, office buildings and other properties around the world create the opportunity for foreign officials and leaders to offer Trump potential quid pro quo favors — staying at his hotels, for example, or cutting away red tape for his new developments, and more. The conflicts of interest might even lead to violations of the emoluments clause of the United States Constitution.

That obscure clause says the president is prohibited from receiving gifts from foreign states without the approval of Congress. As Alexander Hamilton noted in The Federalist Papers, gifts create a slippery slope: "One of the weak sides of republics ... is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption."

Trump has consistently rebuffed claims that his conflicts of interest are a problem, pointing out — correctly — that the main federal conflicts-of-interest statute does not apply to presidents, though Trump's assessment is arguably incomplete since it does not address the emoluments clause.

Indeed, Trump's flippant comment to the New York Times — that the president "can't have a conflict of interest" — is reminiscent of former President Richard Nixon's claim that "when the president does it, that means it is not illegal." 

Trump has also brushed off reports on his conflicts of interest as an example of the "crooked media" making a "big deal" out of what was already common knowledge. 

When asked about a recent Wall Street Journal editorial calling for the president-elect to relinquish his holdings to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest, Trump's future chief of staff also waived the issue away, saying any potential conflict would be reviewed by the White House Counsel.

But legal and ethics experts consulted by Mic agree this arrangement would be inadequate, since the laws as written give the president leeway that could lead to abuse — even if behavior is technically legal.

"If the law [were] adequate to addressing the conflict of interest issue, then counting on White House Counsel might make sense," said Kathleen Clark, a legal ethics professor at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. "President-elect Trump needs to demonstrate leadership ... Or he can hide behind lawyers who tell him that he is not legally required to put the public interest first." 

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It doesn't make matters any easier that Trump hasn't released his tax returns, making it difficult to determine the extent of his overseas dealings.

Here's a list of the potential conflicts of interest reported to date.

These are examples of Donald Trump's potentially problematic conflicts of interest that we know of so far.

• Trump reportedly met with the developers of Trump Tower properties in Mumbai after the election, and his business partners claimed in the Indian press that they "discussed expanding their partnership" with the president-elect, according to the New York Times. Trump has five projects underway in India, where corruption involving real estate development is more commonplace, reports the Times, with one project already under local government investigation following accusations of permitting fraud.

• Trump allegedly encouraged the interim leader of the United Kingdom's independence party, Nigel Farage, to oppose wind farms near his golf courses because they ruin the view, a report Trump partially confirmed to the New York Times.

• A Trump golf course in Ireland is embroiled in a local regulatory dispute over a sea wall that Trump wants to build but that environmentalists say would jeopardize an endangered species of snail, according to the Times.

• Trump allegedly spoke about a stalled business development in Buenos Aires during a congratulatory call from Argentinian President Mauricio Macri. Spokesmen for the president-elect and the Argentinian president denied the reports, which originally came from a respected Argentinian journalist, according to NPR.

Scott Heppell/AP

• The Trump International Hotel has reportedly become a hotspot for foreign diplomats seeking to gain favor with the president-elect; rooms in the hotel can cost up to $20,000 a night.

• Trump currently has an outstanding loan to the Bank of China, a partially state-owned corporation. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China also rents space in Trump Tower with a current lease that expires in 2017 — and Bloomberg reports Trump could run afoul of the emoluments clause if the bank ends up paying more than market rate when the lease comes up for negotiation.

• Trump's proposal to roll back Obama-era regulations on energy production and "streamline" the approval process will likely benefit energy infrastructure companies like Energy Transfer Partners, which is building the Dakota Access Pipeline — and in which Trump reportedly had invested up to $1 million until this summer

James MacPherson/AP

• In January, Trump spoke on Fox News of the need to "protect" Saudi Arabia. Trump registered eight companies in Saudi Arabia during the campaign alone. 

• Trump has proposed that South Korea take over paying for more of its infrastructure and military, which are partially subsidized by the U.S. Trump is partnered with a South Korean construction company that would benefit if that scenario ever played out, according to The Week.

One of Trump's business partners in the Philippines was appointed as a special envoy to the U.S. by Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been accused of encouraging vigilantism and has previously said he wanted to "break up" with America.

• The Trump Hotel Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is already being investigated over allegations of "illicit commissions and bribes," reports the Times.

Here are situations in which Donald Trump will appoint regulators that would oversee his businesses — amid disputes.

• The president-elect's company is currently involved in a labor dispute between culinary workers and management at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. The president-elect will appoint all five members of the National Labor Relations board, which arbitrates such disputes. 

• The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., is on land owned by the federal government — with a lease managed by the General Services Administration, an agency led by a head that Trump will appoint as president. Trump is currently disputing a tax bill for the hotel; he will also appoint the next head of the Internal Revenue Service.

Beth J. Harpaz/AP

• Trump owes hundreds of millions of dollars to Deutsche Bank — a bank that was recently slapped with a $14 billion federal fine — and Trump will appoint the bank's new regulators in the Securities and Exchange commission.

Donald Trump has business deals in dozens of foreign countries — and that could constitute a security threat. 

Beyond the question of enrichment is the matter of national security. A major concern regarding Trump's hotels and other properties is the fact that many of them lie in "the very hotspots where we're trying to prevent terrorism," said Richard Painter, chief ethics council for President George W. Bush. 

"You've got these properties all over the world, and I don't know who's going to protect all of them." Painter said in an phone interview. "That right there is a compromise of our natural security."

Painter pointed out that the many buildings bearing Trump's name — soon to be the name of the U.S. commander in chief — could become targets.

Not only would the extra security required to protect them be costly, he said, but the U.S. could lose credibility with and leverage over any non-cooperative foreign governments or leaders unwilling to protect the buildings.

Ozan Kose/Getty Images

And what happens when Trump's business incentives conflict with what would be good for U.S. national security?

One example of a country where Trump's business ties could cause trouble is Turkey, said Bulent Aliriza, a director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy think tank.

Turkey's relationship with the United States has soured recently, Aliriza said, in part because the U.S. is supporting Syrian Kurds — as part of a strategy to fight ISIS — despite the fact that Turkey considers the group to be terrorists.

While better foreign relations are always desirable, it would be a problem if Trump were incentivized to improve the U.S. relationship with Turkey based on his business interests — rather than what would be best for U.S. national security and the welfare of the Turkish region at large.

But evidence suggests some of Trump's business connections could complicate his decision-making.

Since 2012 Trump has held a development in Turkey, which he owns in conjunction with Dogan Holding, a company run by media and business executive Aydin Dogan. Dogan's son-in-law, Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, is reportedly close to Trump: Turkish media outlets say Yalcindag was actually with Trump officials on election night.

Yalcindag reportedly also has a friendly relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's son-in-law — and Turkey's energy minister — Berat Albayrak, according to Turkish media reports, which allege that relationship is one reasons the Dogan companies' media coverage of the government has been favorable.

Simply put, Trump's business relationships could create the incentive to play nice with the Turkish president for reasons that go beyond diplomacy.

The conflicts of interest raise big questions: How will the president-elect deal with diplomatic entanglements in the Middle East? Will he back U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS?

And — in general — how might Trump's business interests affect his choices regarding diplomacy across the globe?

A CNN review of financial closures found Trump has roughly 150 business subsidiaries with deals in at least 25 countries around the world — including Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Uruguay, the U.K., and China.

Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the president-elect's transition team, didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.

Nov. 28, 2016, 10:30 a.m.: This story has been updated.