How Trump’s foreign dealings could pose conflicts of interest

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, as he is watched by two pipers in front of the lighthouse, at his Turnberry golf course, in Turnberry, Scotland, Britain June 24, 2016.      REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne - RTX2HZU0

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Turning to the Republican Party nominee, Donald Trump, he highlights his business record as an important reason to vote for him.

But a number of his dealings reach beyond the borders of the United States, and questions have been raised about whether any would present conflicts of interest if he becomes president.

I’m joined now by “Newsweek”‘s Kurt Eichenwald, whose recent cover story details Trump’s extensive global business connections.

Kurt Eichenwald, welcome.

First of all, tell us, how exactly did you gain access to information about Donald Trump’s business holdings, because we know he hasn’t released his tax returns?

KURT EICHENWALD, Newsweek: It’s not easy.

I mean, a lot of it came down to calling businesspeople, financiers all over the world, tracking down people who had done business with Donald Trump, finding the names of entities disclosed in his financial disclosure, but that have no description of what they are, and, from that, figuring out who the partners were, what their entities were, who the people who were in charge, and then linking everybody together.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you write that never before has an American candidate for president had so many financial ties with America’s allies and enemies. How extensive is it?

KURT EICHENWALD: It’s huge.

I mean, it basically traces into virtually every major non-European area of the world. And when you have someone who has conflicts of interest in India and Azerbaijan, in Russia, in China, in Turkey, in — you know, the list just keeps going on and on and on — in the Philippines.

I mean, there was a point where I just had to stop, because I couldn’t keep — you know, I only had 5,000 words to tell this story, and the number of conflicts would go on — fill an a entire issue of “Newsweek.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what’s an example of a conflict? Because, among other things, you say Donald Trump is not a builder. You call him a licenser.

What does that mean?

KURT EICHENWALD: Well, for the last decade or so, Donald Trump hasn’t been building anything. He’s been on “The Apprentice” and he’s been selling his name, sort of like Hilton Hotels sells its name.

And so he’s been basically selling his name out to people who will pay him, without, apparently, a lot of due diligence into who these people are. I mean, a great example is, he has a deal right now with a fellow in Azerbaijan whose father is a major government official who has been identified by American intelligence as money laundering for the Iranian military.

So, you have now Donald Trump, if he’s president of the United States, he’s got conflicts in Azerbaijan, and he is somebody who his business partner’s father is linked to some pretty bad things.

What does he do? What’s his interest? How does he approach it?

JUDY WOODRUFF: You also write about a businessman in Turkey who is very close to Turkey’s president, Erdogan.

KURT EICHENWALD: Yes, and that created a serious problem, because that developer was able to bring Erdogan out for a dedication of the Trump building. Trump was there. And then Donald Trump got up and insulted Muslims around the world.

There was basically protests in Turkey. The Turkish president, who was already on the verge of facing a coup, was getting pressured. He came out, condemned Donald Trump. He condemned the person who was doing business with him. That individual has been indicted.

And what I have been told is that the Turkish president is saying that, if Donald Trump is president, the United States, because of this whole episode, the United States will not be allowed to have access to a Turkish air base that’s a major staging area for the bombings of ISIS.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the Trump campaign says — and you make note of this in your updated story — they say, if he becomes president, he’s going to cut all ties with the Trump Organization.

Why doesn’t that alleviate any concern about a conflict of interest?

KURT EICHENWALD: Trump’s too smart a businessman not to know that he’s lying on this one.

You know, you start off, he’s had three explanations. One is that he’s going to put the company in a blind trust. A blind trust is something where you take a portfolio of investments, give it to an independent person, who then handles your trading and your transactions, and you never know what’s in it.

Well, Trump is saying: I will put this one company in a blind trust.

He knows what’s in it. It’s that one company. There’s nobody independent managing it. It’s his children. When he says he will sever all ties to it, you can’t have a company where you’re getting financial benefits, your children are getting financial benefits, and your children are running the company and say, I have severed my ties on it.

Third, Trump is going into this — he’s not going to suddenly lose all his memory. Trump knows who his business partners are. The rest of the world doesn’t, but Trump knows who all his business partners are. And he knows what the conflicts are.

And when — if he gets into office, he will be sitting there fully aware of every conflict that exists and what decision will lead to profits for his family, even to the detriment of the United States’ national security.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, assuming all this still exists, if he’s elected, what would he have to do then to eliminate a conflict of interest?

KURT EICHENWALD: The only option is, you have to sell the Trump Organization.

If he sells — if he is truly dedicated to what he’s saying, he can sell the Trump Organization. His family can take the money and start a new real estate empire, should they choose, and all the conflicts are gone.

But they have made it very clear that they are not going to do that. In fact, Trump’s daughter, who is now going to be a major official there, has said, you know, we will decide not to make deals that might present national security or foreign policy problems, which, of course, raises the question, how are they going to know? Is Donald Trump going to share classified information with his family? Is he going to share foreign policy plans?

And, even worse, are they saying they could have figured out that their business partner in Azerbaijan was connected through family to money laundering for Iran? Of course they couldn’t. They’re not going to know where they’re having problems and where they aren’t.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it is a significant piece of reporting.

Kurt Eichenwald from “Newsweek,” we thank you.

KURT EICHENWALD: Thanks for having me.

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