Amid Signs of 'Cronyism, Nepotism, and Conflicts of Interest,' Watchdog Demands Probe of Trump-ZTE Dealings

"The American people deserve answers about these controversial dealings, but the White House refuses to even offer a coherent explanation for its actions, so it falls to Congress to exercise its oversight responsibilities."

China's President Xi Jinping and China's first lady Peng Liyuan and U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania attend a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People on November 9, 2017 in Beijing, China. Trump is on a 10-day trip to Asia. (Photo: Thomas Peter--Pool/Getty Images)

Highlighting the appearance of "cronyism, nepotism, abuses of power, and conflicts of interest" in U.S. President Donald Trump's recent negotiations to rescue the failing Chinese telecom giant ZTE after Beijing dumped $500 million into a major Trump development project in Indonesia, the watchdog group Common Cause sent a letter (pdf) to two key congressional committees on Thursday calling for a probe into whether Trump is "abusing his office to enrich his family."

"The office of the president is not intended for self-enrichment, but the president and members of the Trump family have seen a massive windfall since Donald Trump took office."
-- Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause

"To help set the record straight, we respectfully ask you to hold oversight hearings to investigate the administration's interactions with ZTE and the Chinese government to determine if there were any laws and/or regulations that were broken," read's Common Cause's letter, which was sent to all members of both the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The letter goes on to demand that the committees request answers to these four specific questions:

  • Were the trademarks granted to Ivanka Trump's business a direct part of the negotiations with China? Their timing raises significant concerns about conflicts of interest that exist when a business is based on the value of a brand name that is still inherently connected to an individual who wields political power and influence.
  • To what degree was President Trump personally involved in these deals?
  • If President Trump wasn't directly involved in these negotiations, did he order anyone to establish certain parameters for the deal, such as the Chinese government granting trademarks for his daughter's business.
  • Have ZTE and the Chinese government lobbied the administration about the deal? Have they legally registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)?

"Americans expect and deserve open and honest government, and the dealings between the Trump administration, the Chinese government and ZTE raise a host of red flags," Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, said in a statement on Thursday. "The office of the president is not intended for self-enrichment, but the president and members of the Trump family have seen a massive windfall since Donald Trump took office. Members of Congress must put their country before their party and begin asking some tough questions."

As Common Dreams reported last week, other advocacy groups and legal experts have similarly raised alarm about the timing of Trump's efforts to rescue ZTE, which is on the brink of going out of business because of sanctions imposed by the U.S. over export law violations.

Public Citizen president Robert Weissman argued it is "almost inconceivable" that the Chinese government's $500 million investment in a Trump development project in Indonesia did not influence the president's efforts to rescue ZTE.

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