Trump's most dangerous conflict of interest has nothing to do with money
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“The Trump brand is key to the value of the Trump Organization’s assets.”

This was one of the most concerning statements by President-elect Donald Trump’s attorney during this week’s long-awaited press conference in New York. There are numerous questions over the traditional financial conflicts of interests here, but the biggest concern has to do with the national security implications that now arise.

Put simply, for the first time in our history, an American president has his name on buildings and properties throughout the world—even in countries with significant terrorist activities. Since the greatest value of his assets is tied directly to his name, the enemies of the United States now have new targets that will inflict harm directly to an American president. To be clear, this has never happened before and the national security implications are significant and difficult to fully predict.

Traditionally, enemies of the United States who are unable to inflict direct physical or symbolic harm inside the homeland instead target our interests throughout the world. Since the early 20th century, a primary target has been U.S. embassies or diplomatic facilities, as these are the very symbol of global American power. Other targets have included hotels or destinations where American and other western tourists stay.

Now, however, every property across the world labeled with the name Trump or known to be owned by the Trump Organization becomes a soft target for those wishing to do harm to the United States and its interests or, more insidiously, to put direct pressure on the American president. Diplomatic outposts are hardened targets with security, blast walls and other security measures. A hotel, residence or office tower, however, will not have that kind of security.

Cyber threats are equally multiplied when the commander-in-chief has an entire business empire vulnerable to cyber warfare. We have already seen a glimpse of the damage that can be done through cyber attacks directed at private or semi-private entities. Imagine years of internal Trump Organization communications being accessed by enemies of the president or the country.

This new reality creates the most dangerous conflict of interest for the incoming president and the country. What will President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Illinois House passes bill that would mandate Asian-American history lessons in schools Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE do if one of his hotels abroad is bombed by a terrorist? His net worth is directly tied to the brand. It is not farfetched to think that after one property is attacked, no one is going to want Trump’s name on a building they live, work or stay in. Immediately following such an attack, his business empire would begin experiencing financial pressure.

While rebranding is an option, that lowers the value, but if ownership is not changed, any property still owned by the Trump Organization will be a target. We can safely assume once an attack has occurred, no one will want to enter a Trump-owned property—branded or not.

One option that has been discussed is to harden these properties worldwide. But who pays for this effort? The Trump Organization, the U.S. taxpayer, building owners or foreign governments? All of these options have unique conflicts of interest or other problems associated with them.

Yet the most glaring issue is that history suggests nothing serious will be done to protect these targets until after something has already occurred. Again, this highlights just some of the national security implications and costs to taxpayers of Trump’s refusal to divest himself and his family of his business empire.

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Will a President with a strong sense of personal worth—which he has made clear is one of the most important things to him and what he has built his reputation on—use the military, diplomatic or other powers of the United States to protect his personal property under the guise of responding to terrorists?

Will foreign powers or non-state enemies be able to influence the incoming President’s decisions by threatening the value of this brand and therefore his business empire? The fact that we even call it an empire only underscores the kind of warfare that will be targeted at Trump’s interests around the world.

Unfortunately, none of the measures the president-elect announced this week resolve these very real risks. As many commentators have already mentioned, the steps taken do almost nothing to alleviate the financial conflicts of interest Trump’s holdings create.

Nothing short of a complete divestiture and a rebranding of all his properties will resolve this problem. By completely divesting from his business, Trump could take the target off of all his properties, reduce potential outside pressure and likely save the lives of individuals who live, work or visit his properties across the globe.

However, it is unlikely we will see complete divestiture until an incident happens that causes harm to his personal finances. And by that point, it will be too late.

Gil Cabrera is a political partner with the Truman National Security Project. He is a former chairman of the San Diego Ethics Commission, which monitors and enforces the city's campaign finance and ethics laws and proposes governmental ethics law reforms.


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