This Week in Conflicts: Major Labor Ruling Overturned, an “Unofficial” Visit to India and a Gala at Mar-a-Lago
Since we last checked in, the National Labor Relations Board overturned a previous ruling due to an appointee’s conflict of interest, Donald Trump Jr.’s “unofficial” visit to India raised eyebrows around the world – while attracting lots of media attention – and a charity moved the location of its gala to show support for President Donald J. Trump.
Labor Ruling Overturned
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) overturned a previous ruling due to a conflict of interest involving one of its board members, William Emanuel.
In December, Emanuel, who was appointed by President Trump and joined the agency earlier in 2017, took part in a case that overturned a 2015 ruling where his former law firm represented one of the companies involved. Earlier this month, Reuters reported that the NLRB inspector general said that “by taking part in the December decision, Emanuel may have violated an executive order prohibiting presidential appointees from handling matters involving former employers or clients for two years after taking office,”
The Sunlight Foundation previously highlighted news coverage of Emanuel’s relationship with the company and his potential conflict earlier this month.
The decision, according to Reuters, “means the law reverts to an Obama-era precedent under which companies which franchise their brand names can be liable for workplace law violations that occur at independently owned businesses that merely rent the franchise.”
Supporting Trump with a Gala
The Washington Post reported that an Israel-focused charity, The Truth About Israel, held their recent gala at the Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach, Florida to show support for President Trump.
According to the article, the organizer for the charity’s event, Steven Alembik, moved the gala from another local resort to Trump’s private club after hearing other charities and companies were canceling their events, due to comments the President made following the Charlottesville riots.
“This president has had Israel’s back like no president has since the days of Ronald Reagan,” Alembik told the Washington Post.
“So I picked up the phone, I call Mar-a-Lago, they think I’m calling to cancel some other gala or some event, and I said no. I’d like to come here and show our support for the President of the United States.”
Alembik is not the only one showing his support for President Trump by hosting events at Mar-a-Lago.
According to the Post, “his organization is emblematic of the groups that have scheduled new events at Mar-a-Lago this winter, filling in some of the resort’s empty dates. These new customers are often aligned with Trump’s politics — the groups have hosted Republican gatherings, a gala for the Christian Broadcasting Network and an event put on by the president’s superfans, called ‘Trumpettes.’”
India Trip Steals Headlines
Trump Jr.’s visit to India was bigger news than Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to the same country, according to Fox News. Headlines from major newspapers in India seem to reflect that. One read, “Trump is Here? Are you Invited?”
Trump Jr.’s India trip is being called an “unofficial” visit to promote and visit Trump Organization real estate projects. The visit included “meet-and-greets” with investors and business leaders and a speech at a global business summit, according to the Washington Post.
Potential buyers also had an opportunity to meet with Trump Jr. According to one of the ads in the local newspapers, for a booking fee (about $38,000, according to the Post) they could “join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner.”
A spokesperson for one of the real estate projects told the Post, since January, they have sold apartments worth nearly $70 million.
The visit has raised ethical questions around the world. Outside of the United States, there are more Trump business entities registered in India than any other country. In addition, some of Ivanka Trump’s clothing brand products are manufactured there and several trademarks for the brand are based in India.
During his visit, Trump Jr. described the country as an important market for the Trump Organization but said because of the self-imposed restrictions his father, President Trump, put in place, the company will lose out on new deals in the country.
“Few years ago, I said it would become our largest (market) because I really believed in the market… I think it will continue to be the same when I am able to get back in the market and focus on the business side, on new deals again in the future, once my father is out of office,” he said.
“Trump Jr. has continued to blur the line between the Trump Organization and the Trump administration,” Jordan Libowitz wrote, in an opinion column in the New York Daily News. “We’ve gotten used to decade after decade of Presidents who went out of their way to make sure they did not have even the appearance of financial conflicts of interest. They did this not because they legally had to, but because it was the right thing to do. Americans should never have to question whether their President is acting in their best interest or his bank account’s.”
Ethics Issues Abound
Tom Price, David Shulkin, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, Steve Mnuchin, Ben Carson, Wilbur Ross and Rick Perry all made CNBC’s list of Trump Cabinet officials “rocked” by ethics scandals.
In “Ethics be Damned,” an investigation by American Public Media, more than half of Trump’s 20-person Cabinet is listed as having engaged in unethical or questionable behavior. The names mentioned in the paragraph above make their list – but there are new faces as well, including Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, White House senior advisor Kellyanne Conway, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, and acting chief Federal Railroad Administration Heath Hall.
According to APM’s investigation:
- At least five Cabinet members are alleged to have used taxpayer money for private travel.
- At least four have kept their ties to business groups that they may regulate.
- Others failed to report ownership in a gun company and continued investment in a company.
The New York Times Editorial Board took note of these accumulating ethics issues in a scathing editorial: “President Trump’s White House has been so scandal-plagued that controversies involving cabinet members and other high-level officials that would have been front-page news in any other administration have barely registered in the public consciousness.”
One of those ethical issues involves the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, whose staff misled ethics officials about a trip to Europe. In July 2017, Shulkin and his wife spent 10 days in Copenhagen and London. The couple was there for official business – but also went on a river cruise and attended the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
Citing an investigation by the Veterans Affairs inspector general, Fortune repoted that the chief of staff for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs “altered the language of an email so that it appeared that Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government in order to justify covering his wife’s travel as well, which cost taxpayers $4,312.”
Kushner Handing Over Tax Documents?
Bloomberg reported that federal tax officials are asking for documents from investors and lenders involved in projects managed by Jared Kushner’s family.
According to Bloomberg, federal tax authorities “have gathered information from people who lent money and assembled investors for some Kushner Companies real estate projects in New York and New Jersey, the person said. Those projects involve deals dating back to 2010.”
A lawyer representing the Kushner Companies said the company is not under investigation for any tax issues, has not been subpoenaed or audited about its taxes, and has not been in contact with the IRS or Justice Department.
More conflicts of interest in the news:
- Trump Administration Considering Offer for Adelson to Fund Jerusalem Embassy
- Trump, Russia and Alternative Financing
- Money Laundering Trump Taj Mahal
- Kushner Quitely Made More Fixes to Disclosure Form
- What is Ivanka Doing? (Opinion)
- Follow Trump’s Money (Opinion)
- Kusher Resists White House Secretary Clearance Overhaul
- House Ethics Committee confirms review of Rep. John Duncan Jr.
- Nationalize the Trump Organization (Opinion)
About this Project
Sunlight’s “Tracking Trump’s Conflicts of Interest” presents a comprehensive, free, searchable database detailing all of President Donald J.Trump’s known business dealings and personal interests that may conflict with his public duties as president of the United States. Read our reporting to stay current on related news, learn more about conflicts of interest at every level of government and search our database. If you’re familiar with any of the conflicts we’re tracking you can email us or contact us here to contribute to the project.
Lynn Walsh is an Emmy award-winning freelance journalist who has worked in investigative, data and TV journalism at the national level as well as locally in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida. She produces content focused on government accountability, public access to information and freedom of expression issues. She’s also helping to rebuild trust between newsrooms and the public through the Trusting News project. Connect with her via email here.