Washington’s Palace Eunuchs Revolt Against Trump
For months, Donald Trump’s opponents and their partners in the media have hinted darkly about his business connections in Russia and other precincts of foreign intrigue. There’s only one thing missing from the search for guilt: real evidence. Furthermore, the characters telling this tale reveal more about Washington insiders who favor the status quo than anything Trump has ever done.
The story usually goes that Trump had dealings with Russian oligarchs and the like—perhaps even criminals—and this arrangement, rather than a calculation of national interest, is why Trump wants a constructive relationship with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. For example, last week, ABC published the unfortunately titled, “From Russia With Trump: A Political Conflict Zone.” But the article does nothing more than assert that Trump and his children have promoted their real estate products to Russian consumers, among others. There is nothing illegal, unethical, or unexpected about a real estate magnate selling condos to Russians.
The overall storyline that Trump must be guilty of something has been around for months. However, attention to the issue by the media and Hillary Clinton’s campaign has spiked in recent weeks.
On September 19, when Clinton was off the campaign trail convalescing with pneumonia, fifty former bureaucrats who worked in national security-related positions in the Clinton and Bush administrations attacked Trump in an open letter. Titled “A Call For Transparency,” the letter is a case study in fact-free innuendo. It conveys no new information and cites only a single Newsweek article published five days earlier as a source. The authors even disclaim this weakness in fine Washington fashion of covering one’s posterior, writing: “We do not know whether all of the facts in the Newsweek article are accurate.”
Chances are they are not. To repeat an Orwellian adjective that the open letter authors used themselves, the Newsweek piece, written by Karl Eichenwald, is “problematic.” It purports to have conducted a “close examination” of Trump’s business, which “reveals an enterprise with deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals.”
Which financiers, foreigners, and criminals? One implied transgression was Trump's meeting in the late 1990s with two executives from South Korea’s Daewoo Engineering and Construction Company. Daewoo had “worked with” Trump’s company on a construction project in Manhattan. They now wanted to license the Trump name for a development in South Korea, which the two companies eventually arranged —
something quite ordinary for a brand-focused real estate company like the Trump Organization. So where’s the smoking gun? Eichenwald writes that the chairman of a company related to Daewoo went to jail after his company engaged in accounting fraud. When Daewoo went through bankruptcy, it “required revisions in the Trump [brand licensing] contract,” but “the Trump Organization still remains allied with Daewoo Engineering and Construction,” whatever that means.
Got all of that? Trump met two guys from a company and later worked out a deal to license his name to a project, something that happens every day in real estate. The chairman of a related but nonetheless different company, whom the article never says Trump even met, goes to jail for something unrelated to Trump and later goes into bankruptcy. In that bankruptcy, the contract with Trump’s company is revised — something that happens every day in corporate bankruptcy, especially since changing the terms of contracts is one of the main purposes for bankruptcy. So exactly what has Trump done that is illegal or unethical?
Eichenwald does not even stop there with exceedingly abstract guilt by association. He writes that Trump ruminated about South Korea possibly developing its own nuclear weapons instead of relying on the United States. Then Eichenwald pivots to note that Daewoo Engineering and Construction is involved in South Korea’s nuclear energy industry, and asserts that it might benefit if South Korea later decides to pursue a weapons program. This is hardly airtight reporting and it is not even clear of what he is accusing Trump.
The article continues in the same manner with projects in India and the Middle East. Throughout, Eichenwald insinuates that Trump’s business activities will cause him to pull punches with adversaries abroad. But he defeats his own point in writing about supposed Trump conflicts in the Middle East, especially in Turkey, where the Trump Organization has a branding deal with a Turkish real estate developer. Citing Trump’s “anti-Muslim rhetoric,” as he does three separate times in the article, Eichenwald asks: “Would Trump act in the interests of the United States or his wallet?” The answer is quite obviously the former, since Trump’s licensing deals long predate his presidential campaign and the concerns about refugees and radical Islam it has conveyed. Eichenwald even points out that Trump has been willing to draw the ire of Recep Erdogan, Turkey’s increasingly Islamist president, despite a Trump-branded property in Istanbul.