nzphotonz/iStock(WASHINGTON) — Congressional Democrats intend in the coming weeks to ask the Trump Organization for records surrounding the firm’s talks with developers in the Dominican Republic as part of a close examination of the overseas deals being negotiated by President Donald Trump’s adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric, a senior lawmaker told ABC News.
“The American people have the right to know if the President is working in his own personal best interest to support his pocket book, or whether he is working in theirs,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who is expected to chair the House Oversight Committee when his party takes control of the chamber in January.
Cummings said he was concerned that, as ABC News reported on Monday, Eric Trump visited the Caribbean tourist hotspot 16 days after his father was inaugurated and apparently reopened discussions with a Dominican development firm about a Trump-branded beachfront resort there. Almost a decade had passed since an earlier project with the same company fell apart.
Last month, the non-profit group Global Witness sent an undercover investigator to try and determine if the project had been revived and secretly recorded a sales agent at the Cap Cana resort describing a Trump-branded condominium development in the works for a new, beachfront location.
“We’re going to have a new development with the Trump Organization of apartments and commercial areas,” a saleswoman told a man she thought was a potential buyer who was actually a Global Witness investigator. “That is still in the works … With the Trump Organization, everything right now is on good terms.”
The Trump Organization called the Global Witness report “completely false,” maintaining that it has no new development deals in the works and that talks with the Dominican developers have been infrequent.
“In 2007, the company entered into a license agreement with a local developer for a multi-component real estate development project to be built over several years,” said the company in a statement. “Though there have been some discussions about starting the next phase of the development, there are no plans in place at this time.”
Critics say whether or not it is a new development or a new phase of an older development proposal, there are still possible conflicts of interest.
Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of the advocacy group Citzens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said the problem with the current arrangement is that it invites the potential for conflicts of interest.
“[The deals] create the possibility that the president's decisions on the most delicate foreign policy matters could be swayed by his business interests,” Bookbinder said. “We don't know yet whether the facts will support findings of conflicts of interest, constitutional violations, or improper influence in the Dominican Republic, but the reporting so far suggests the real possibility of some or all of those harms.”
If deals with foreign business partners result in payments or benefits to the president, he said, they could also represent violations of the U.S. Constitutional provision called the foreign emoluments clause, which he called “one of the constitution's original anti-corruption clauses which reflects the framers' significant concern about foreign influence.”
Cummings said he believes any negotiations between the president’s family business and a foreign-based company should be disclosed to the public.
“Our problem is, we need information,” Cummings said. “This president has not turned over anything in terms of documents.”
Shortly before his inauguration, Trump promised transparency about the company’s foreign work, telling a gathering of reporters “I won’t have any conflicts of interest” before ceding the stage to his attorney, Sheri Dillon, who said Trump would insist on written approval from an ethics adviser “for new deals, actions, and transactions that could potentially raise ethics or conflicts of interest concerns.”
“President-elect Trump as well as Don [Trump Jr.], Eric [Trump]and [the company’s chief financial officer] Allen [Weisselberg] are committed to ensuring that the activities of the Trump organization are beyond reproach and cannot be perceived to be exploitive of the office of the presidency,” she said, adding: “No new foreign deals will be made whatsoever during the duration of President Trump’s presidency.”
That press conference prompted House Democrats to send a series of letters to Trump lawyers seeking information about his international business deals, but Cummings said the committee did not receive a sufficient response. Cummings said he believes the recent mid-term elections, however, which gave Democrats control of the House, could change that, bringing more scrutiny of the company’s overseas activity.
“Voters made clear they wanted transparency, integrity, honesty, but they wanted something else,” Cummings told ABC News. “Accountability.”
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