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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Every despot on the planet has his number

by digby

This new Eichenwald piece for Newsweek on Trump's foreign entanglements and conflicts of interest is a must-read. This excerpt about the Trump organization's ties to the odious president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte show just how absurd it is that Trump believes he can avoid conflicts of interest simply by "turning the business over" to his sons and telling them not to make any "new deals" while he's president. "New deals" are not the only issue at stake, by far.

Recall that Trump had a very friendly chat with Duterte reportedly telling him that he thought he was handling his "drug war" the "right way."
The Trump family has an enormous financial interest in keeping Duterte happy. Trump Tower at Century City in Makati, Philippines, is on the verge of completion, with potential buyers having placed deposits on at least 94 percent of the condominiums, according to Century Properties, the Trump Organization’s business partner there. During the U.S. presidential campaign, Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric traveled to Makati to shovel some dirt in a ceremony to celebrate the structural completion of the building; a photograph of the two men shoveling alongside top Century Properties executives was posted on the building’s website. (On that same website, a line of jewelry by Trump’s daughter Ivanka is offered for sale, and it is expected to be available for purchase at the $150 million property.) As with almost every property with Trump’s name on it built over the past decade, his company is not the developer; it merely sold its name to Century Properties to use on the building. Although details of the transaction are not public, contracts for other Trump branding deals reviewed by Newsweek show that they require a multimillion-dollar up-front payment as well as up to 25 percent of the developer’s revenue, year after year. So, under the deal, Trump’s children will be paid millions of dollars throughout their father’s presidency by Jose E.B. Antonio, the head of Century Properties.

Duterte recently named Antonio the special government envoy to the United States. The conflicts here could not be more troubling or more blatant: President Trump will be discussing U.S. policy in Southeast Asia with one of his (or his children’s) business partners, a man who is the official representative of a foreign leader who likens himself to Hitler. Also note that the Trump family has an enormous financial interest in Duterte’s deadly campaign: Rooting out crime in the Philippines is good for the real estate values.

The Trump family’s dealings in the Philippines will set off a constitutional crisis on the first day of Trump’s presidency, if anyone in the federal government decides to abide by the law. There is serious debate as to whether Trump will be violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause—which prohibits office holders from accepting gifts from foreign states—since the majority of his company’s business is with other corporations and developers. That is not the case in the Philippines. The man writing millions of dollars’ worth of checks to the Trump family is the Duterte government’s special representative to the United States. To argue that these payments will be constitutional if they are paid to the Trump children, and not to Trump personally, is absurd. This conflict demands congressional hearings, and could be an impeachable offense.
And that's nothing compared to what's going on with Turkey:
In 2008, the Trump Organization struck a multimillion-dollar branding deal with the Dogan Group, a large corporation named after its influential family, for a two-tower complex in Istanbul. In 2012, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan presided over the opening ceremonies and met with Trump. But in June of this year, Erdogan called for the Trump name to be removed from the complex because of his anti-Muslim rhetoric; the Turkish president also said presiding over the dedication had been a terrible mistake. Erdogan later told associates he intended to impede America’s use of a critical Air Force base in Turkey should Trump win the presidency, a Middle Eastern financier with contacts inside the Turkish government told Newsweek. The financier spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing relations with his official contacts.

In July, members of the Turkish military attempted a coup. Erdogan crushed the plotters, and his government has arrested more than 36,000 suspected participants and shut down 17 media outlets. The primary culprit, Erdogan declared almost immediately, was Fethullah Gülen, a 77-year-old Muslim spiritual leader who has lived in Pennsylvania’s Poconos region for many years. Erdogan demanded that the Obama administration extradite Gülen to face charges related to the coup.

Erdogan believes he has leverage with Trump, who's trying to build a huge office tower in Istanbul, which makes his business partners in Turkey vulnerable to harassment or even arrest.

Gülen and Erdogan were allies until 2013, the year a series of corruption investigations erupted regarding government officials accused of engaging in a “gas for gold” scheme with Iran; Erdogan claimed the man with whom he once shared common goals was the driving force behind the inquiries, which he called an attempted “civilian coup.” Erdogan has placed Gülen on country’s list of most-wanted terrorists, but the Obama administration has not acted on the extradition request, and it has told the Turks they would have to produce proof of Gülen’s involvement in the coup attempt before he could be sent to Ankara, the Turkish capital.

Enter Donald Trump. The day of the U.S. election, the news site The Hill published an article by Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, who has since been named as Trump’s national security adviser. “The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam,” Flynn wrote. “We should not provide him safe haven…. It is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.” (Flynn, who runs a consulting firm hired by a company with links to the Turkish government, seems unaware that radical Islamic groups like the Islamic State, or ISIS, are more likely to decapitate someone like Gülen.)

That article, according to the financier with contacts in the Turkish government, led Erdogan and his associates to believe a Trump administration would not demand more evidence to justify deporting Gülen. So, almost immediately, Erdogan stopped condemning Trump and instead voiced support for him. The day after the U.S. election, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim issued a statement directly linking his country’s good wishes for Trump with its desire to get Gülen back. “We congratulate Mr. Trump. I am openly calling on the new president from here about the urgent extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the mastermind, executor and perpetrator of the heinous July 15 coup attempt, who lives on U.S. soil.”

In a telephone call that same day with Erdogan, Trump passed on compliments to the Turkish president from a senior official with his company’s business partner on the Istanbul project, whom the president-elect was reported to have called “a close friend.” The official, Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, is the son-in-law of Dogan Holding owner Aydin Dogan and was instrumental in the development of the Trump complex in Turkey. That Trump delivered messages from his business partner to Erdogan has been reported in numerous media outlets in Turkey, including some closely tied to the government, and has not been denied by Turkish officials or the Trump transition team.

According to the Middle Eastern financier with contacts in the Erdogan administration, Trump’s casual praise of a member of the Dogan family prompted Erdogan to believe this relationship might give him leverage over the president-elect. In the past, Erdogan has placed enormous pressure on the Dogan Group, which owns media operations that have been critical of him, by imposing a $2.5 billion tax fine and calling for supporters to boycott its newspapers and television stations. Then, just weeks after hearing Trump’s kind words about his Dogan business partner, Erdogan lashed out at the Turkish company again.

On December 1, authorities detained Barbaros Muratogl, a 28-year veteran of Dogan who was the company’s representative to Ankara. His alleged crime? Maintaining links to the movement led by Gülen, thus connecting the Dogan executive to the attempted coup. In response, Dogan shares fell 8.6 percent. (The purported evidence against Muratogl: public accusations from an editor at a newspaper owned by a company that competes with Dogan.)

Once again, follow the dominoes as they tip over. Erdogan is frustrated in his efforts to grab Gülen; Trump praises a Turkish executive who works with his business partner there, Dogan. A few weeks later, a senior Dogan executive is detained on threadbare allegations. If Erdogan’s government puts more pressure on the company that’s paying millions of dollars to Trump and his children, revenue flowing from the tower complex in Istanbul could be cut off. That means Erdogan has leverage with Trump, who will soon have the power to get Gülen extradited. The financier with contacts in the Turkish government explained the dynamic to Newsweek: “Erdogan has something he believes Trump wants, and Trump has someone Erdogan desperately wants.”
It isn't just Russia folks. It's every despot on the planet.