Business Insider: Ethics experts say their 'fear has been realized' as Trump faces one of his most consequential conflicts of interest yet

Allan Smith
Mar 5, 2018
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Ethics experts fear that the week-long standoff at a Panamanian hotel between ownership and the Trump Organization just presented one of the most consequential conflicts of interest yet for President Donald Trump.

The dispute broke out into the open last week when Orestes Fintiklis, the majority owner of the hotel, arrived in the lobby of the building with associates. His aim was to fire the Trump Organization, which has managed the hotel since its 2011 opening. The Trump Organization, however, refused to leave.

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"He can't just go around and recuse himself from various decisions," Larry Noble, senior director and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, told Business Insider. "Especially when you're dealing with international relations. It's the problem we said would happen and it is happening." Short of severing ties with his businesses, Noble said there isn't anything Trump could do to fully remedy the situation if Panamanian authorities do launch the investigation. And if that investigation begins, any US decision with an effect on the country will be under the microscope.

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"It could be a trade deal, it could be aid of some sort, it could be a rule involving the Panama Canal," Noble said, adding, "This is a good example of what a presidential conflict of interest looks like."

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"Obviously, that affects his feelings about that foreign country," Noble said. "And so, when he has to make any decisions that may impact Panama, we have to ask, is he doing it to get back at them? Or to make them happy because of his business? Or is it really just in the interest of the American people? And that's your classic conflict of interest."

"If they really do start a major investigation of this property, is he going to start tweeting about Panama and our relations with Panama?" he continued. "This is a real tangled web, and it's a problem."

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