Refusing to allow President-elect Donald Trump's "unprecedented" global conflicts of interest be swept aside, Democratic members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are publicly demanding that the Republican chair do his job and launch a "rigorous" investigation "right away."
"Trump seems to believe he's above the law," committee minority leader Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told CNNMoney. "That's dangerous for democracy, and it's our duty to look at these situations."
In a letter sent Monday to committee chair Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Cummings and the 16 other Democratic members of the committee, which investigates government waste, fraud and abuse, said that recent revelations have "raised serious concerns about the intermingling of Mr. Trump's businesses and his responsibilities as president."
"The scope of Mr. Trump's conflicts of interest around the world is unprecedented," they wrote. According to a CNN analysis, "Trump owns or has a position in more than 500 companies," including "companies that have done business in 25 foreign countries, including Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia."
Perhaps more troubling, the letter warns, is that the president-elect has "exhibited a shocking level of disdain for legitimate bipartisan concerns about his conflicts of interest."
The Democrats also accused Chaffetz of partisanship and blasted him for ignoring a prior letter from Cummings, despite the fact that he "acted with unprecedented urgency to hold 'emergency' hearings and issue multiple unilateral subpoenas to investigate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton before the election." Further, they credited popular outrage for keeping the "troubling" situation in the limelight.
Although you have stated publicly that you will hold Mr. Trump to the same standards as President Obama and Secretary Clinton, you have not responded to Ranking Member Cummings' letter, and you have not taken steps to conduct basic oversight of these unprecedented challenges.
Since Ranking Member Cummings sent his letter, Americans across the country have flooded our Committee’s offices with thousands of calls in strong support of this investigation, jamming our phone lines with more calls than we have ever received in response to any other issue.
At the same time, during this two-week period, troubling new revelations about Mr. Trump's actions—as well as those of his family members and business associates—have made the need for robust congressional oversight even more urgent.
Top ethics lawyers have also voiced serious concern over Trump's conflicts, telling news outlets over the weekend that the Electoral College is obligated under the Constitution to reject the president-elect if he does not "divest his holdings and establish a truly blind trust," as Common Dreams reported.
The Democrats' letter goes on to summarize just some of the ways that Trump's business dealings have already overlapped with his transition to power:
Mr. Trump's daughter Ivanka—who now serves on the transition team as she continues to lead Mr. Trump's businesses—reportedly participated in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.[...]
She also reportedly participated in a meeting with Indian business developers involved in Trump Tower, a hotel in Pune, India which pays to use the Trump name. One of the developers, Kalpesh Mehta, reportedly "expressed satisfaction with the pace of Trump Organization's India business and showed interest in expanding it further." Another developer, Sagar Chordia, posted pictures with Ivanka and Eric Trump and confirmed to The New York Times that "they had discussed the desire to expand the deals with the Trump family."
Ivanka Trump also reportedly participated in a call between Mr. Trump and Argentine President Mauricio Macri on November 14, 2016. The Trump Organization reportedly has pursued building an office tower in Buenos Aires, but it was not completed before the permits expired.
In addition, it has been reported that when Mr. Trump spoke with British politician Nigel Farage, he raised concerns about the impact that offshore wind farms could have on the view from one of his golf courses in Scotland. When The New York Times asked Mr. Trump about this exchange, he admitted that he "might have brought it up."
It has also been reported that Mr. Trump's organization filed a lawsuit during this period against the District of Columbia to evade local property taxes on his new Trump International Hotel in the former Post Office Building. Mr. Trump argues that the value of the property is millions of dollars less than the official government assessment, yet Mr. Trump told The New York Times that "occupancy at the hotel will be probably a more valuable asset now than it was before" and that his “brand is certainly a hotter brand that it was before." In fact, approximately 100 foreign diplomats met during this period at the Trump International Hotel, which is now reportedly "the place to be seen."
And while the billionaire developer has managed to keep the nation's attention elsewhere, with inflammatory tweets and high-profile cabinet battles, the fight over his business dealings is worth watching.
"If we give a damn about the constitution, Donald Trump has to sell off his empire and place his assets in a blind trust, just like every other president has done for the last half century," wrote Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). "If he chooses not to do this, then Trump is constitutionally unable to be president, just as if he was born in Kenya. It's that simple."