This Week in Conflicts: Panamanian problems, What isn’t staying in Vegas, a Ukrainian connection, and Bolton’s SuperPAC


Chief Justice John Roberts administers the oath of office to Donald Trump as his family looks on. (Image Credit: White House photographer)

This week, lawyers for the Trump Organization asked the Panamanian president to intervene and help the company as they battle over the former Trump-branded hotel in the country, Trump’s Las Vegas Hotel has limits on hiring family, and questions surround the new national security adviser’s political donation organizations.

Panamanian Problems

Trump Ocean Club, Panama. (Image Credit: Wikimedia user Panamausa)

Lawyers for the Trump Organization asked Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela to intervene in the company’s fight over the former Trump-branded hotel in the country, according to the Associated Press.

Ethics experts say this is concrete evidence of President Donald Trump’s businesses and U.S. government interests becoming intertwined.

“This could be the clearest example we’ve seen of a conflict of interest stemming from the president’s role as head of state in connection with other countries and his business interests,” Danielle Brian, executive director of The Project on Government Oversight, told the AP.

The name “Trump” was removed from the luxury hotel last month after the majority owner of the hotel asked the Trump Organization to cease management of the hotel. The two companies are currently in court.

In a March 22 letter obtained by the AP, lawyers for the Trump Organization “‘URGENTLY’ request[ed] the Panamanian leader’s influence to help reverse the company’s acrimonious eviction as managers of the 70-story luxury high-rise once known as the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower.’”

The letter never mentioned President Trump’s role as president, but does say the eviction of the Trump brand and employees from the hotel violates an investment treaty between the two countries. That violation would be something that, according to the letter, the Panamanian government – not the hotel’s new management – could be blamed for.

Trump Hotel Policy Limits Hiring Family Members

Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Image Credit: Flickr user Steve Jurvetson)

The Daily Beast reported the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas told its employees that hotel management has a right to limit hiring family members if a conflict of interest exists.

The employee handbook was obtained by an advocacy group, Property of the People through a Freedom of Information Act request directed to the National Labor Relations Board.

According to the handbook, while the hotel “does not wish to deprive itself of the services of potentially valuable Associates by establishing a policy excluding the employment of relatives, it must be acknowledged, that such employment can result in the appearance of a conflict of interest, collusion, favoritism, and other undesirable work environment conditions. Therefore, management reserves the right to limit the employment of relatives in situations within the company if a conflict of interest is deemed to exist.”

A spokesperson for the Trump Organization defended the handbook, claiming that the policies are lawful and standard in the hospitality industry.

According to the Daily Beast, the handbook also banned “[s]exually suggestive or obscene comments or gestures.”

A Ukraine Connection

Screenshot of the New York Times website. (Image Credit: The New York Times)

The New York Times reported the special counsel is investigating a payment from a Ukrainian steel businessman to President Trump’s foundation in 2015.

According to the Times, a payment was made to Donald Trump, who had declared that he was running for president, to make a 20-minute video appearance to a conference in Kiev. The payment is being investigated by the Justice Department as part of a broader look at foreign money sent to the president and his associated leading up to the election.

The Times reported that the Trump Organization “handed over documents (to investigators) about a $150,000 donation that the Ukrainian billionaire, Victor Pinchuk, made in September 2015 to the Donald J. Trump Foundation. … Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer whose office and hotel room were raided on Monday in an apparently unrelated case, solicited the donation.”

Two weeks after the election, the foundation disclosed the donation from Pinchuk for President Trump’s video appearance.

John Bolton’s Conflicts

Former Ambassador John R. Bolton speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Image Credit: Gage Skidmore)

There are two political action committees bearing President Trump’s new national security adviser’s name.

According to Newsweek, there are two fundraising committees registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that bear John Bolton’s name, despite him stating that he would end all political activities and involvement with his PACs.

The websites for both PACs said the organizations were “suspending all political activities until further notice as of March 31, 2018.” So far, however, neither group has filed the proper paperwork to shut down.

Campaign finance experts told Newsweek this is problematic because “even the appearance of a national security adviser having an interest in fundraising could lead to real or perceived conflicts of interest.”

Commenting on the issue, former FEC general counsel Larry Noble, now at the Campaign Legal Center said that “If I sent them a check, would they still accept it? I think what should be done is they should disband the PAC. Or rename it. But he should have no involvement.”

More conflicts of interest in the news

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.