Uproar and revived criticisms of standing "conflict of interest" concerns surfaced Saturday after it was revealed that a business trip that President Donald Trump's second-eldest son, Eric Trump, recently made to Uruguay cost U.S. taxpayers nearly a hundred thousand dollars in hotel costs and administrative fees.
As the Washington Post, which broke the story, reported:
It was a high-profile jaunt out of the country for Eric, the fresh-faced executive of the Trump Organization who, like his father, pledged to keep the company separate from the presidency. Eric mingled with real estate brokers, dined at an open-air beachfront eatery and spoke to hundreds at an "ultra exclusive" Trump Tower Punta del Este evening party celebrating his visit.
The Uruguayan trip shows how the government is unavoidably entangled with the Trump company as a result of the president's refusal to divest his ownership stake. In this case, government agencies are forced to pay to support business operations that ultimately help to enrich the president himself. Though the Trumps have pledged a division of business and government, they will nevertheless depend on the publicly funded protection granted to the first family as they travel the globe promoting their brand.
What's not out of the ordinary is that close family members of the president are provided with Secret Service protection—that is an established tradition and protocol. But what has sparked the serious concern is how taxpayers are being forced to subsidize the business expenditures by the president's wealthy family members—especially Eric and his brother Donald Trump Jr.—who have been temporarily put in charge of the Trump Organization while their father serves as president.
"There is a public benefit to providing Secret Service protection," Kathleen Clark, an expert on government ethics and law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told the Post. "But what was the public benefit from State Department personnel participating in this private business trip to the coastal town? It raises the specter of the use of public resources for private gain." Clark said the whole affair "is an example of the blurring of the line between the personal interest in the family business"—from which Trump has refused to fully divest, and the U.S. government he is now running.
"This whole story is mind-blowing," declared author and activist Naomi Klein in a tweet. She explained:
Biggest scandal is the whole business model: Eric sells the Trump brand for $$ + that brand's value is up *because* Trump is president. https://t.co/SNHDhh04mr— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) February 3, 2017
Dean Baker, an economist and the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), put it this way:
Taxpayers just shelled out over 60 food stamp years worth of benefits to pay for Eric Trump's business trip https://t.co/MW91Ec3Ec0— Dean Baker (@DeanBaker13) February 4, 2017
Norm Eisen, a former Obama ethics adviser who is part of a lawsuit accusing Trump of violating a constitutional provision barring presidents from taking payments from foreign governments, told the Post the conflict are obvious. "Having refused to sever his own personal financial interests," said Eisen, "[the president] is now sending his emissaries, his sons, out to line his own pockets, and he's subsidizing that activity with taxpayer dollars."