To catch you up: Celebrity gossip website TMZ hyped the launch of new Texas nonprofit led by Donald Trump’s adult sons Donald Jr. and Eric based on what it called a “draft” of a soon to be released event brochure. The non-profit was offering, we were told, access to the new President during inauguration weekend in exchange for million-dollar donations to unnamed “conservation” charities. Prospective million-dollar donors to the “Opening Day 2017” event on January 21, the day after inauguration, were to receive a “private reception and photo opportunity for 16 guests with President Donald J. Trump,” a “multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion for 4 guests with Donald Trump, Jr. and/or Eric Trump, and team, ”as well as tickets to other events” and “autographed guitars by an Opening Day 2017 performer.”
The Center for Public Integrity was on this like a shot…and so was the news media. I received a link in an e-mail from someone who archly noted that “You seem to be interested in influence peddling,” a reference to my many posts about the real purpose behind the Clinton Foundation, “so perhaps you will find this of interest [Unsaid but understood: “…you Donald Trump enabling, racist, fascist bastard!”] In the link, TIME took the hand-off from the Center, and got a series of quotes from critics, like Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign reform organization.“This is problematic on so many levels,” Larry said. “This is Donald Trump and the Trump family using a brand new organization to raise $1 million contributions for a vague goal of giving money to conservation charities, which seems a way of basically just selling influence and selling the ability to meet with the president.”
Noble cautioned that the details of the event and its association with the new nonprofit listing the Trump brothers as directors were still unclear. “It’s really hard to identify all the problems when they’re so vague,” he said.
True. As of today, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are no longer listed as directors of a that non-profit. Papers removing their names from the Opening Day were processed by the state of Texas, a spokeswoman for the Texas secretary of state told CNN Money.
1. Before the election, when I was asking everyone for a single positive and rational reason to vote for Donald Trump, “He’s not Hillary,” “I want to destroy the Republican Party,” “He says what he thinks,” and “Burn it down!” not meeting my definition of positive, one repeat submission was, “At least with him, the news media will be doing its job and not making excuses and covering up, like it does for Obama and Hillary.” This could also be said of the “non-partisan” Center for Public Integrity, which raised no concerns about the Clinton Foundation until September of this year, though the Foundation’s dubious fundraising while Hillary was Secretary of State and later the Presumed President To Be had been discussed in many forums, including this one, for many months. Yet a draft of a brochure featured on TMZ [Current headline: “Cher Sued! I Got You Babe! You Stole My Font!” ] without confirmation was enough for TIME and other sources to repeat the TMZ story as fact. Naturally, various versions of the story were circulated by the All Trump Panic All The Time Brigade on Facebook.
2. Will a hair-trigger impulse to assume the worst, or manufacture it, with Trump serve the public better than the “move along, nothing to see here!” approach the mainstream media has employed regarding Obama? Maybe. I’m not convinced.
3. Since the Clinton Foundation has made Bill and Hillary so fabulously rich and provided a nice money laundering option for corporations and foreign governments, all without legal or regulatory, or even much public relations penalties until very recently, of course others will try to use the same model, or improve on it. This is why the Clintons are #1 and #2 on the Ethics Alarms Top Ten Ethics Corrupters.
4. Nonetheless, better keep a close eye on the Trump Boys. Giving money, jobs, contracts and other goodies to the children of politicians and elected officials is a yawning chasm in conflict of interest rules and laws. This was what got ex-Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell prosecuted, and the tactic is nearly impossible to stop, unless the powerful parent and the tempted children actively resist it. When NBC jumps on the Trumps for accepting such boons, somebody please remind them of how they paid Chelsea Clinton an annual salary of $600,000 to show how completely lacking she was in any talent for broadcasting whatsoever.
“Families can be complicated, and big families are even more complicated,” said C. Boyden Gray, who served as White House counsel during the administration of the elder George Bush, told the New York Times. “And the Bush families and the Trump families are both big families. So a little extra care is warranted.”
Not being greedy and having the integrity not to try to capitalize on one’s father’s success would also help. Robert Lincoln, Abe’s unlucky oldest son ( he was by his father’s bedside when the President died of an assassin’s bullet, and was on the scene when both Garfield and McKinley were shot) refused to accept any offer, benefit or honor that he believed were generated by his last name rather than by his own achievements.
“During his 1988 campaign, George Bush was sensitive to the “microscopic probing” his children were facing, particularly as the election drew near. In a letter to them in May 1988, he cautioned about the “new friends” they might encounter, suggesting that the friends would ask for things.
“I know I must sound very defensive, but — believe me — every effort will be made to find some phone call, some inquiry, some letter that can be made to appear improper,” he wrote in the letter, obtained from his presidential library. It was addressed to George W. Bush, but appeared to be directed at the whole family. “Soon the election will be at hand, and then you will not have to put up with preachy letters from your father, as in this case, maybe.”
6. Ivanka Trump also blundered into this thicket. She had organized an online auction, for the benefit the Eric Trump Foundation, that offered the winning bidder the opportunity to have coffee with her. Businessmen told The New York Times that their goal in bidding would be to pass a messages to her father on policy issues, or to gather information that might give them insight on investments. The auction was canceled last week.
7. All professionals, and especially law enforcement and elected officials, must avoid the appearance of impropriety, because the public trust is at risk. The children of Presidents better learn to be sensitive to the appearance of impropriety as well.