The murky ethical questions surrounding President Trump and his continuing ties to his family business just got even more cloudy.
At a White House press briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about ethical conflicts in the Philippines where the Trump Organization, and senior White House senior advisor Ivanka Trump’s company, are seeking three patents to protect the Trump brand name and to facilitate their business in that country.
That would be questionable for a government official at any time. It becomes even more troubling with the Philippines now being run by a hot-headed and impulsive dictator who has sided with China against the U.S. and been known to murder his own people without any judicial approval for alleged drug violations,
On top of that Trump, without consulting his own State Department, invited that dictator to come to Washington for a visit, which set off even more alarm bells.
Then the dictator insultingly announced he didn’t have time for a visit with Trump right now, but he would consider it when he was ready – sometime in the future – maybe.
So how did Press Secretary Sean Spicer handle such a sensitive and important question? He punted. He told the reporter, “I think the President and Ivanka have done everything in compliance. Made it very clear. And I would refer you to the Trump Organization.”
It is both unorthodox and unusual for a government official to refer a reporter to a non-government source with no obligation to answer a question about government mandated ethics by the nation’s highest elected official and his daughter, who has been made a government employee, despite concerns about the obvious nepotism of her hiring.
The website Share Blue crunched some numbers and found that in 449 cases where a press secretary referred a reporter to other sources, it was virtually always to another government agency such as the State Department which would have more detailed knowledge of a question.
The one exception was a question about the status of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana in 2010 where a reporter was referred to the BP oil company which was on the scene doing the actual cleanup.
Spicer’s referral in this instance is just further proof that there is a shadowy mixing of the Trump’s government and business interests, which is unethical and possibly illegal.
Unlike past presidents who have sold or put all their business holdings in a blind trust, Trump has not done either. He continues to hold equity in his businesses which are now supposedly run by his two adult sons, who regularly brief him on how things are going.
The very fact an official White House spokesman would feel the need to refer a reporter to Trump’s business seems to suggest there is a real and on-going conflict of interest.
While Trump has waved off any ethical concerns, this is a very uncomfortable situation for a lot of Americans who expect the president to have one priority, the United States of America. Clearly, Trump’s loyalty is conflicted.
Everything Trump does, like his impulsive and questionable invitation to the abhorrent Prilliipines dictator to visit the White House, must be examined not just as an act of international policy but also to see how many conflicts it raises.
When Ivanka met with the president of China and her father, her company was given valuable patent protection in China that very day.
The Trumps say it is not an ethical issue because she isn’t actively running that business, but it is hard for the rest of us to agree that this move is clothed in dignity when the Emperor has no clothes.
We have no way of knowing how often when Trump slips in a few points favorable to his private businesses when he talks to world leaders, but we know it has happened. This is intolerable at any time but especially when dealing with a murderous dictator who cannot and should not be trusted to be a reliable American ally.
Watch his remarks here: