You may recall that barely a week after his upset victory, Donald Trump proved that he has no intention of separating himself from his real estate empire once he becomes president. He personally took part in a meeting with several real estate partners from India. Well, it turns out that even before then, Trump may have been wringing the leaders of foreign countries for favors as well.
On Monday morning, Talking Points Memo set the political world ablaze when it learned of a potentially shocking telephone conversation between Trump and the president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri. Prominent Argentine journalist Jorge Lanata led off his weekly news program, “Periodismo para todos”–an Argentine version of “This Week Tonight” and “The Daily Show”–with a report that Macri called Trump to congratulate him on his win last Monday. Trump then reportedly used the opportunity to ask Macri to help cut through a swath of red tape tying up a planned office tower in downtown Buenos Aires being built by Trump and several business partners in Argentina.
Later in the show, reporter Romina Manguel claimed that based on her reporting, Trump and Macri discussed “the little details” about the project. Reportedly, the Buenos Aires city council is mulling whether to renew the permits for the tower, given that the president-elect of the United States holds a large stake in the deal. Fellow reporter Maxi Montenegro said that if this call happened as Manguel described, it would be a “scandal.” That’s being rather kind to it. It sounds like the very definition of extortion if true.
When I saw this roll across my Facebook feed via Daily Kos, I thought it was snark. But it wasn’t. The story first appeared in La Nacion, one of Argentina’s most respected newspapers. It looks like a foreign newspaper scooped the American press on a major story involving the president-elect for the second time in as many weeks. The meeting with the Indian business partners was only picked up after the Indian press reported it.
Reaction from both sides of the aisle piled in fast and hard on Twitter.
So the guy who has millions of $ tied up in Trump Tower Buenos Aires is same guy that pres of Argentina had to go through to talk to PEOTUS.
— Susan Simpson (@TheViewFromLL2) November 21, 2016
Trump doesn’t need to ask Macri for a building permit. Argentina will grant it unasked, as a favor. That’s why biz situation is concerning.
— Allahpundit (@allahpundit) November 21, 2016
Trump needs to deny the Argentina story immediately & unambiguously. Unless it's true, in which case he's getting impeached.
— John Schindler (@20committee) November 21, 2016
Story re: Trump call with Argentina, if true, is an astounding level of corruption that deserves not only press investigation, but federal.
— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) November 21, 2016
Trump corruption scorecard:
-Pressed Argentina on building
-Trump U fraud settlement
— Matt Ortega (@MattOrtega) November 21, 2016
If this is true — if — it is a terrible, terrible sign. Presidents. Can't. Do. This. https://t.co/TzsYPFxyIt
— Peggy Noonan (@Peggynoonannyc) November 21, 2016
Predictably, both Macri and Trump adamantly denied that any discussions took place about the tower. However, even if Trump didn’t try to twist Macri’s arm, there are still a lot of questions about this call. Macri told Japan’s Asahi shimbun that during last Monday’s call, he spoke with Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.
Trump and Macri have been close friends and business partners for several years. Normally, bringing Ivanka on the line wouldn’t raise eyebrows. However, Ivanka and her siblings are not only part of their father’s transition team, but are slated to run their father’s real estate empire once he takes office. Seen in this light, Ivanka’s presence on that call raises the question of whether she played the same role she did when she sat in on a meeting between her father and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. That is, sending a subtle message that any world leaders who cross the Trump Organization will be crossing the president of the United States.
Either scenario could potentially get Trump in a yuuuge legal and constitutional pickle. Trump’s phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from his future opposite numbers. If he is trying to wring favors from these leaders–in Macri’s case, help with permits or preferential treatment for the Trump Organization–it could potentially run afoul of the Constitution’s Title of Nobility Clause. That clause forbids federal officials from receiving “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever” from a foreign government.
It is generally understood that if a federal official receives an improper gift if he gets more than market value in a transaction with a foreign government. From the looks of it, Trump’s Argentine dealings fall in the same category as recent reports that diplomats are trying to trade stays at Trump’s ritzy new hotel in Washington for access to the president. On the face of it, it would be a potentially impeachable offense at worst and grounds to call for his resignation at best.
The larger issue, though, is that we are even having this discussion in the first place. Trump’s behavior in the last two weeks has raised a question that we should never have to ask about any of our leaders–would a President Trump put his wallet first, or the country first?
Granted, we were asking that question long before now, but it has gotten louder since Election Day. After all, we know of at least two high-profile instances since then where Trump blatantly mingled his future role as president with his business interests. And while the details are in flux, it certainly looks like this call with Macri is the third–again, at the very least. It is now clear that Trump is overflowing the swamp rather than draining it–and if this continues, it will end with him being forced out of office by early 2018, either by forced resignation or impeachment and removal.
Fortunately, there are leaders who are in a position to pull the plug on this swamp of corruption–the members of the Electoral College. When a president wins the Electoral College without winning the popular vote, it is particularly incumbent upon that president to demonstrate that he can unite the country. By not taking the most basic steps to show that he will separate himself from his businesses, Trump has proven that he either cannot or will not do so.
Even without Hillary Clinton weren’t winning the popular vote by a margin well beyond what can be dismissed as wasting votes in the cities, Trump’s stratospheric conflicts of interest have disqualified him from serving as president. This potential travesty from Argentina is all the more reason for the electors to put their country first and vote in Hillary as president on December 19.
(featured image courtesy Gage Skidmore, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)