In light of the news that entities controlled by the Chinese government will contribute $500 million to an Indonesian development project that includes several Trump-branded properties, it’s worth taking a step back and marveling at how many powerful foreign groups and individuals appear to be attempting to influence the U.S.’s distinguished president by giving money or favors to his chintzy real-estate company and/or sketchy pals. And while there’s not conclusive evidence (yet) of such incentives having led directly to changes in the administration’s policies, there’s certainly no evidence that sending cash in the president’s general direction will hurt your chances of getting the hookup, so to speak, from the American government. Take a look:
• China, as mentioned, just committed $500 million to build a theme park in an Indonesian luxury mega-development that will also feature Trump Organization-branded hotels and a golf course. Days after the commitment was finalized, Trump announced that he wants to lift sanctions that have been imposed on a Chinese telecom company called ZTE, which did business with Iran.
On another front, White House adviser Jared Kushner’s family business has solicited individual Chinese investments in one of its U.S. developments with a presentation that explicitly noted that Kushner is Trump’s influential son-in-law. In February, the Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence agencies have collected evidence that the government of China believes that Kushner can be manipulated through his business interests.
• A well-connected investor from Qatar, Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, is accused in a U.S. court filing by an aggrieved former business partner of having attempted to bribe said former partner for an introduction to Steve Bannon—and of having claimed in the process that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had taken Qatari money. The latter claim was made more noteworthy by video footage that shows Al-Rumaihi entering Trump Tower in New York City at the same time as infamous Trump lawyer Michael Cohen on Dec. 12, 2016, a day that Michael Flynn was also in the building. (Al-Rumaihi, in a bombshell interview published Wednesday by the Intercept, acknowledged having met with Trump officials and says Cohen asked him for a personal $1 million “fee” to help facilitate Qatari investments in the U.S.—but said he did not pay the fee and did not meet on Dec. 12 with Flynn. Cohen denies asking for the $1 million.)
Qatar’s government has also reportedly met multiple times with representatives of Newsmax, the conservative media outlet run by Trump’s frequent Mar-a-Lago companion Christopher Ruddy, about a potential investment in the company. The reported negotiations have coincided with a shift in the Trump administration’s rhetoric about Qatar: After initially condemning the country for supporting terrorism, a condemnation that coincided with a Qatari decision not to invest in Jared Kushner’s company, the White House has now decided that Qatar is a trustworthy ally whose leader is, in Trump’s words, a “great friend.”
• Michael Flynn was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by companies connected to Turkey and Russia in 2015 and 2016 before reportedly pursuing Turkey- and Russia-friendly policies during his short tenure as national security adviser. It was also recently revealed that, in 2017, a U.S. investment company controlled by a Russian billionaire named Viktor Vekselberg paid Michael Cohen $500,000. Vekselberg is among the Russian individuals targeted by economic sanctions that Trump has reportedly been reluctant to impose despite the advice of his advisers and the wishes of Republicans in Congress. (The investment firm in question, Columbus Nova, denies that Vekselberg ordered the payment to Cohen and says Cohen was employed to provide legitimate business consulting services. There are, however, several reasons to doubt Columbus Nova’s version of the story.)
• A lobbyist named George Nader reportedly arranged lucrative contracts with the government of the United Arab Emirates for a security firm owned by Republican fundraiser/Trump buddy Elliott Broidy. Broidy then reportedly advocated UAE-friendly positions to Trump on several occasions, including a meeting in the Oval Office. (You may recognize Broidy’s name because he resigned from his role with the Republican National Committee when reports emerged that he’d employed Michael Cohen to arrange a $1.6 million NDA payment to a Playboy model. It’s a situation that has not quite been fully explained.) Nader, for his part, is now reportedly cooperating with Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation.
• Saudi Arabia, in addition to sharing the interests pursued by its ally the UAE, is reportedly involved in negotiations to invest in businesses owned by Trump crony and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker. Saudi Arabia was also reportedly involved, as a potential client, in a private-sector plan to build nuclear plants that Michael Flynn helped promote during his time in office. The Trump administration has consistently pursued policies that benefit Saudi Arabia and the UAE, most notably by withdrawing from the nuclear deal that provided economic and geopolitical benefits to the countries’ Middle Eastern rival Iran.
• The Trump Organization has a number of active projects in India’s notoriously corrupt real-estate market—where several of its suspect local partners, as the New Republic has documented in an exposé, are “closely intertwined with the ruling party” of prime minister Narendra Modi. Donald Trump Jr. traveled to the country this February to promote Trump-branded apartment properties, a sales trip during which new buyers were offered the chance to have “conversation and dinner” with him. Don Jr., in addition to being the president’s son, has taken a role in the already-active Trump 2020 re-election campaign—and, during his trip to India, was scheduled to give a speech about U.S. foreign policy at a conference at which Modi also appeared. (After backlash, Trump Jr.’s speech was canceled and he instead participated in a softball interview about his life and “business culture.”)
On the potential “quo” end of things, the Trump administration has been consistently hostile toward India’s rival, Pakistan.
• Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, named the developer of a Trump-branded building in Manila as the country’s trade envoy to the U.S.
• Diplomatic and lobbying delegations from some of the countries above and several others have spent significant sums at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. The Trump Organization has said it is donating all the profits the hotel derives from foreign government patronage to the U.S. Treasury—but hasn’t released any documents or details to support that claim.
One piece of subtext to all of this: European heads of state, who are generally governed by laws prohibiting bribery, have treated Trump like a typical U.S. president, making the case to him via formal diplomacy that doing things like withdrawing from the Paris climate accords and Iranian nuclear deal would damage U.S. interests. He’s generally ignored them in favor of developing buddy-buddy relationships with a number of authoritarians whose countries are friendly toward the Trump Organization and the people in its orbit.
All in all, it’s really starting to seem like Trump’s promise to create a “blind trust” that would completely insulate him from his business interests has not been entirely effective in its implementation. Sad!