During an appearance on CNN Newsroom Tuesday morning, CNN contributor Walter Shaub argued that Donald Trump Jr.'s trip to India to promote his business's condos proves that "The presidency and the United States is for sale."
The President’s eldest son is currently in the world’s second most populous nation promoting pricey Trump-branded condos in two cities. Trump Jr., along with his brother Eric, have taken over the lucrative family business since their father’s election as President of the United States while his eldest daughter Ivanka has joined the White House staff as a presidential adviser. Walter Shaub, the former Director of the United States Office of Government Ethics, seems convinced that the President will directly profit from these condos, saying “This is the son of the American President, marketing properties branded with the President’s name, and the beneficiary of this is going to be the President because he owns the business that the son who’s over there is running.”
Shaub also suggested that those interested in purchasing the Trump condos will effectively buy the influence of the Trump administration. Sound familiar? Many Republicans had said the exact same thing about the Clinton Foundation, which they argued served as an influence-peddling operation where foreign governments such as Saudi Arabia would buy the silence of the Clintons on their egregious human rights abuses. Shaub, who donated to President Obama, seemed utterly unconcerned about any conflicts of interest with regards to the Clinton Foundation.
Shaub suggested that the only reason people would want to buy these properties is because they are connected to the President. He also ridiculed the idea of Trump Jr.’s presence at a business conference where the Prime Minister of India will speak about foreign policy, saying “that’s just absurd because nobody thinks of Don Jr as a foreign policy expert.”
Shaub himself admitted that Donald Trump Jr.’s activities do not violate any laws but will do anything to push the appearance of impropriety. As his Twitter page makes quite clear, Shaub has quite an animus against President Trump, which makes him an ideal CNN contributor.
JOHN BERMAN: This morning, Donald Trump Jr. is in India to promote Trump branded condos in two cities there. This is a trip that’s raising all sorts of questions, some of those condos cost up to $1.6 million. Trump Jr. is attending two dinners for people who have already prebooked spots in those buildings. Developers promoted these dinners with full page, front page ads this weekend in two of India’s biggest newspapers, one blared, “Trump has arrived, have you?” Joining us now, CNN Contributor Walter Shaub, the former Director of the United States Office of Government Ethics. He is now Senior Director of Ethics for the Campaign Legal Center. Walter, so this is a full-on marketing blitz here. We see the newspaper ads, meet and greets, public speaking. What message does this send?
WALTER SHAUB: Well, it sells the message that the Presidency and the United States is for sale. This is the son of the American President, marketing properties branded with the President’s name, and the beneficiary of this is going to be the President because he owns the business that the son who’s over there is running. So you could not have anything more intertwined with the Presidency. This is trading on the name of the President. The ads didn’t say Don Jr. is coming to India. They said Trump is here in India. And that’s exactly the point they’re trying to sell is you buy a property here and you can get time, whether you’re a foreign national or a foreign government, to bend the ear of the President’s son. And, of course, they’ve got to keep these buyers happy because if they don’t sell enough of these, people aren’t going to keep licensing Trump’s name, and so what’s to keep somebody from asking Don Jr. to pass a message to Donald Trump on a policy issue a foreign government cares about. And the answer is absolutely nothing.
BERMAN: So Walter, though, I can see Donald Trump Jr. or Eric Trump for that matter, saying, hey, look, you know I don’t work for this White House. I’m going over there for my business. Why can’t I be allowed to do my business?
SHAUB: Well, and in fact, the rules, even if Trump was a regular official, would not necessarily cover what any relative, even a child does. But let’s remember that this is the President’s business. This isn’t a separate business that Don Jr. is involved in. This is the President’s own business. So he’s over there, asking people to spend money on properties that are branded with the President’s own name. And the line gets a little blurry because he’s been asked to speak at a business conference there at which the Prime Minister of India is speaking on a topic of foreign policy. And, of course, that’s just absurd because nobody thinks of Don Jr. as a foreign policy expert. But what it does is it adds gravitas to his mission over there and connects it more closely in the minds of people with the American President to basically remind them, you know, buy these properties because this is a guy who’s connected to the White House.
BERMAN: It sounds as if, in your mind, one of the big problems was the way the President chose to deal and not deal with divesting himself from his businesses when he became President.
SHAUB: Yeah. This all goes back to the original sin of not divesting his properties because we wouldn’t be in this situation and we wouldn’t have nearly the same concerns here in America if his son wasn’t over there hawking his properties. If he had sold them, even if he had sold them to family members, the President of the United States wouldn’t stand to profit from this adventure over in India.
BERMAN: Any of this actually legal, Walter or just in the realm of the swamp and ethical questions?
SHAUB: Well, it’s, it’s technically legal only because there aren’t laws covering the President. It’s the same idea that the President was able to get away with keeping his properties because there aren’t laws covering him. But let’s remember the reason there aren’t laws covering him is because nobody thought a President would do this kind of thing. President George H.W. Bush, the Senior Bush, actually sent a letter to his family, asking them to avoid even the appearance of trading on the Presidency. And that sort of was the model that modern American Presidents have always followed is at least ask their families to try to start avoiding entanglements that would suggest that they’re involved. But this isn’t just the appearance of impropriety. This is actually over there hawking the President’s properties. You can’t get more direct than that.