Early last Wednesday morning, on the Newsweek website, a seasoned investigative journalist posted a bombshell expose of Donald Trump’s international business empire. Kurt Eichenwald demonstrated, via his meticulous reporting, that Trump has “deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals,” and as a result, if he were to win the White House, “almost every foreign policy decision he makes will raise serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires.”
In a normal year, in a year when the sickeningly bizarre and the horrifically inexplicable weren’t routine, Eichenwald’s article would’ve likely shifted the campaign narrative. Here, after all, is substantive proof that the Republican nominee’s private portfolio “conflicts with America’s national security interests,” that as a matter of routine he’d use the presidency to buttress his bottom line, and that at times he would be faced with choosing between serving our national security needs and serving his self-interest.
Here, after all, is what conflicts of interest really look like, as opposed to the penny ante Clinton Foundation factoids about donors giving money and taking meetings that get them nothing. Here, by contrast, is substantive proof that Trump’s business practices – conducted with scant transparency – would raise “the prospect of legal bribery by overseas powers seeking to influence American foreign policy, either through existing or future partnerships.”
This article is – or should be – required reading. But the odds are high that you haven’t heard a peep about it. It has barely been discussed by the cable yakkers. It has barely been referenced by the mainstream print media. Why is that, perchance?
Before listing my theories, I should give you a taste of the story. The section about Trump and Turkey should suffice.
Turkey has long been crucial to our security in the Middle East. It allows our air force to use its bases as staging areas against ISIS. It’s one of our most valuable Muslim allies. The hitch is, Trump has major investments in Istanbul, via a branding deal with an influential business family, the Dogans. And one of the Dogans has been indicted on smuggling charges. Worse yet, Turkey President Recep Erdogan and the indicted Dogan hate each other. Worse yet, Erdogen despises Trump, in part because Trump is doing business with the Dogans.
Unless you’re a purblind Trumpkin or a pitiable troll, you surely see the problem. Eichenwald did:
Trump might have to choose whether to ignore his partner’s plight or to pressure Erdogan for his own financial benefit….A Trump presidency, according to (an) Arab financier in direct contact with senior Turkish officials, would place (our security) cooperation at risk….In other words, Trump would be in direct financial and political conflict with Turkey from the moment he was sworn into office. All his dealings with Turkey would be suspect: Would Trump act in the interests of the United States or his wallet? When faced with the prospect of losing the millions of dollars that flow into the Trump Organization each year from that Istanbul property, what position would President Trump take on the important issues involving Turkish-American relations, including that country’s role in the fight against ISIS?
That’s just one example – there are lavish Trump investments in Russia (of course), China, South Korea, India, and a host of others – all of which amply fuel Eichenwald’s fact-based conclusion that unless the Trump Organization is shut down or unless the family totally severs its ties (not gonna happen), “the foreign policy of the United States of America could well be for sale.”
Wait, I mentioned South Korea. Remember earlier this year when Trump said he had no problem with the spread of nuclear weapons in Asia? Well, it just so happens that Trump has financially partnered with a South Korean engineering company that’s “involved in nuclear energy, a key component in weapons development.”
So. Why has this Newsweek story, a conflict-of-interest phantasmagoria, rocked the news cycle with all the force of a kitten tiptoeing on cotton? My theories, starting with the most mundane:
1. Americans don’t know or care much about foreign policy unless Americans are getting killed somewhere.
2. Eichenwald is a best-selling author with a solid reputation, but Newsweek mostly survives as a website, so it doesn’t have the clout to drive the cycle. In fact, most mainstream outlets don’t have that kind of clout. Unless a major story runs in The New York Times (or, to a lesser extent, The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal), it’s gonna die fairly quickly.
3. Eichenwald launched his research by combing Trump’s paltry filings with the Federal Election Commission; then he sought out sources who amplified and contextualized the material. Typically, other mainstream outlets don’t like to give big play to a rival’s story unless they can independently verify the rival’s shoe-leather reporting. And in some cases, mainstream outlets simply don’t like to concede that a rival has kicked their butts.
4. The cable networks typically ignore substantive investigative stories because they’re deemed too complicated to present in a visual format. Trump’s conflicts of interest aren’t sexy, and explaining them would take too much air time. For the cable nets, it’s much easier to just show up at a Trump event – like the opening of a hotel, capped with a few seconds of birther blather – and do what they do best: get played for saps.
5. In a culture plagued with information-infauxtainment overload, it’s too often impossible for substantive stuff to land atop the media muck pile. It’s way easier to watch (and to air) Hillary Clinton’s swoon video for the umpteenth time. Way easier to fixate on the latest Team Trump lies, like manservant Chris Christie’s Sunday claim that Trump never spent years pushing birtherism. Way easier to benumb ourselves with clickbait and the latest ignorant Trump tweets.
Yet if the tight polls are correct, we’re actually toying with the idea of electing a guy who aspires to rule as an oligarch, melding our national interests with his bottom line. It’s all there in the Newsweek expose that’s gotten no traction. Is sleepwalking toward the precipice really the best we can do?