White House

Brazil deal again exposes potential Trump conflicts of interest

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, in West Allis, Wis.
President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, in West Allis, Wis. AP

Late Tuesday, the Trump Organization announced it is pulling out of a hotel in Rio de Janeiro after prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into the construction project.

Hours later, Donald Trump’s staff announced that the president-elect had spoken to Brazilian President Michel Miguel Elias Temer Lulia.

There’s no indication that the two issues were connected but as long as Trump refuses to cut ties with his businesses there will be questions about potential conflicts of interest between his presidency and his company.

Did the two leaders talk about the hotel project? Did they talk about the criminal investigation? Did they talk about Trump’s business interests in the country?

Transition aides said in a statement that Temer congratulated Trump on his win over Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Trump offered Temer his condolences on the death of members of Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team in a recent plane crash. The two leaders also discussed the “importance of continuing strong relations between the United States and Brazil,” according to aides. 

Prosecutors are investigating many investments in Brazil, not just Trump properties, as they look into possible bribes paid to public pension fund managers to invest money in commercial projects.

The Trump Organization said the decision, effective Thursday, is about problems with the hotel that partially opened in June, weeks before the Summer Olympics.

Trump has said that his sons would run his company while he serves as president, and said they would not make any new deals during his time in office.

“Even though I am not mandated by law to do so, I will be leaving my businesses before January 20th so that I can focus full time on the Presidency,” he recently tweeted. “Two of my children, Don and Eric, plus executives, will manage them. No new deals will be done during my term(s) in office.”

Trump had planned to hold a news conference Thursday – his first since the election – to provide details of the changes in his business operations. But his aides said the news conference is now postponed until January, though no specific date was provided.

Until Trump explains the plan, the questions remain. It was the same when he held a brief meeting with the developers of a Trump project in India last month and when he includes his children in interviews and talks with world leaders, including a Nov. 17 meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Activists concerned about potential Trump conflicts of interest plan to deliver petitions to four Trump properties in New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas and Washington.

Six groups – Common Cause, CREDO, Demand Progress, Every Voice, MoveOn and Public Citizen – collected more than 400,000 signatures. Some demand Trump sell all his assets and create a blind trust – which means he would not know where the money from the sales is invested – while others call for a congressional investigation.

“The fact that Trump owns properties and has invested in corporations throughout the world creates an inherent conflict of interest between his roles as president and business owner,” according to a statement from the activists. “The conflicts will unavoidably influence policy-making in areas ranging from consumer protection to worker rights, tax to bankruptcy, responsibilities of government contractors to rights of victims of corporate wrongdoing to sue in court. Given the global nature of Trump’s business empire, the conflicts will materially affect the conduct of foreign policy.”

Transition officials for the incoming Trump administration did not respond to media questions.

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