Moneybox

Did Trump Ask the President of Argentina for a Building Permit? Either Way, There’s a Problem.

President Mauricio Macri of Argentine (at right) does not need a private phone call to help Donald Trump make money in Buenos Aires.

Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Donald Trump may have taken advantage of a congratulatory phone call last week from Argentine President Mauricio Macri to ask for an expedited building permit, an Argentine journalist reported on Sunday. The Trump Organization is involved in a project to build a $100 million, 35-story “Trump Office Buenos Aires,” which needs special approval from the city government there. The Argentine developers, one of whom was at the Trump victory party in Manhattan earlier this month, are already working with the Trump Organization on a complex in nearby Punta del Este, Uruguay.

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The claim that Trump asked Macri for the building’s approval is untrue, spokespeople for Macri and Trump said Monday.

So, which is it? Did the future president of the United States use a diplomatic overture to promote his business interests, or did he merely put a foreign leader on the line with his daughter, who he has said will help run his business when he is president? (He definitely did the second; Macri said so himself.)

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The truth is that it doesn’t matter that much. Even if the president isn’t so ham-handed as to actually ask foreign leaders to advance his bottom line, they know what they can do to help. One of the reasons Trump is investing in Buenos Aires right now, his Argentine partners told La Nación, is that Macri, a right-winger who was elected last fall, has lifted import restrictions that had prevented the Trumps from bringing in their desired building materials. As Macri prepares to negotiate with the U.S. over exports of lemons and beef and the exchange of tax information, the government of Buenos Aires will find that its permitting process suddenly could have global geopolitical implications.

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Macri came into his first discussion with Trump at a slight disadvantage, having endorsed Hillary Clinton for president and called Trump an “eccentric man.” In an interview with a Japanese newspaper he heaped some slightly back-handed praise on the new U.S. leader’s political instincts. “He won the election while making many people his enemy. That shows that his capabilities and insights are excellent,” Macri said.

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The chat between Trump and Macri would not have been the first time the two men talked shop.

Like Donald Trump, Mauricio Macri got his start working for his developer dad. While Fred Trump was building housing developments in New York, Franco Macri was building bridges, power plants, and pipelines in Argentina. In the 1980s, an investment in some Manhattan rail yards drew Macri père into the orbit of Trump fils. Macri sold Donald Trump his stake in the land for around $100 million in 1985. Trump later developed a series of apartment towers there, which bore his name until disgusted residents decided to take it down last week.

In The Art of the Deal, Trump characterized Franco Macri as a “wonderful and well-meaning man” without the foresight to compete in the New York real estate market. The elder Macri, in his own book, said that his son (Mauricio, the president of Argentina) trounced Trump in golf, prompting the mogul to snap his clubs in half.

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