Here are signs that ethics scandals will keep weighing Trump down
December 23, 2016, 12:21pm

By Jennifer Rubin – The Washington Post.

President-elect Donald Trump may think the voters don’t care about his ethical quagmire, but at some level the man who coined “Crooked Hillary” must know that the constant drumbeat of scandal, conflicts of interest and greed eventually can erode the public’s trust in its leaders. Well, Trump’s problems increasingly seem to dominate the news:

His foreign conflicts multiply. “The bank is trying to restructure some of Trump’s roughly $300 million debt as part of an attempt to reduce any conflict of interest between the loan and his presidency, according to a person familiar with the matter,” Bloomberg reports. “Normally, the removal of a personal pledge might lead to more-stringent terms. But there is little normal about this interaction.” The report continues: “Trump’s attorney general will inherit an investigation of Deutsche Bank related to stock trades for rich clients in Russia — where Trump says he plans to improve relations — and may have to deal with a possible multibillion-dollar penalty to the bank related to mortgage-bond investigations. Whatever terms a restructured loan might include, they will reflect the complex new relationship spawned between Germany’s largest bank and its highest-profile client. Ethicists say this concerns them.” It should concern a lot of Americans — including Trump’s attorney general pick, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who arguably should recuse himself to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest. This is what happens when administration officials know what Trump owns — they inevitably get accused of doing the boss a “favor.”

Meanwhile, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is demanding the secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, turn over his tax records. In a statement, Cardin explained to fellow Democrats on the committee:

I have not yet received 3 years’ worth of the nominee’s tax returns, which I have formally requested the Presidential Transition Team make available for review. Senator Corker and I have a disagreement about the need to review the nominee’s tax returns. I think it is an important part of vetting this candidate because he has never made public disclosures of this type, as he has worked at ExxonMobil for his entire career and has never been in public service. Mr. Tillerson was actively engaged with many foreign governments that could become relevant if confirmed as Secretary of State. The Senate has a responsibility to review all relevant documents during the confirmation process.

The issue remains unresolved, and Cardin promises to review the answers to financial queries on the standard questionnaire.

What does this have to do with Trump? Well, if it is inappropriate for the secretary of state to have financial holdings that pose a conflict, how can the president not be held to the same standard? That’s the implicit question here.

And finally, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) went on a tweet storm over Trump’s potential violation of the Emoluments Clause. “The only way out of this box is to fully divest. Trump has said he doesn’t care about his business interests anymore. Time to prove it,” he argued in one tweet. Turning day-to-day management over to children doesn’t solve problem. “Princelings” are a feature of many kleptocracies around the world, he argued in another. In yet another, he declared, “There’s no question the Emoluments Clause applies to POTUS – including Trump. Severe remedies if its violated, including impeachment.” Schiff’s interest on the topic is noteworthy. He serves as the ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — the committee charged with investigating the Russian interference in our election, the evidence for which continues to mount. Surely in examining Russia’s reason(s) for interfering in our election, the president’s and his top advisers’ financial involvement in Russia is important. And surely any decision regarding a response to Russian conduct would raise serious conflicts if there are ongoing financial connections between high-ranking U.S. officials (including the president) and Russia.

In sum, Trump’s conflicts extend to multiple foreign players, not to mention domestic operational concerns (e.g., labor disputes, permitting, banking regulations). His problem is not only about Russia. But his problem certainly includes mysterious associations with the Russian oligarchs. Unless Trump puts his tax returns out there and severs ties with all businesses, we will never know which master he was serving. His objection to doing so only heightens suspicions that his decision-making is affected by factors other than what is in America’s best interests.