President Donald Trump claims he is working to save the Chinese telecom giant ZTE to secure a better trade deal with China and to protect U.S. companies that supply the firm with tech components. But the president’s surprising policy reversal recently on ZTE, a massive firm that would have closed due to the U.S. Commerce Department’s blacklisting of the company, has raised red flags all over the place.
Now, more than 60 Democratic lawmakers are demanding an ethics investigation into Trump’s advocacy for the company, which has been accused of facilitating spying on U.S. military personnel and violating U.S. sanctions by selling to Iran and North Korea. Specifically, the legislators want to know what negotiations occurred between Trump, the Trump Organization, and the Chinese government to save ZTE.
In a letter to David Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, the lawmakers want to know if Trump or anyone from his organization violated the law in signing a deal to license the president’s name to a theme park development in Indonesia. That project will be built by a Chinese government-run construction company, and the government has agreed to provide $500 million in financing.
The project will include “several Trump-branded properties,” including residential developments, a hotel, a golf course, and various shops, according to the letter.
Trump’s announcement on Twitter in mid-May that he would order a policy reversal to save ZTE seemingly appeared out of nowhere. But as it turns out, the Trump tweet occurred just three days after the massive Chinese loan benefitting Trump businesses was made public.
The same week, China approved several trademarks for the business brand of Trump’s daughter, Ivanka. On Sunday, China granted Ivanka Trump’s company yet another trademark—its 13th in the last three months, the Associated Press reported.
“The Chinese government’s loan provides a clear financial benefit to President Trump,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote. “Despite the nearly unanimous recommendation by legal experts that he divest from his business interests before assuming the presidency, he failed to do so, instead placing his adult children in charge of day-to-day operations…We believe that these events raise several potential constitutional and ethical violations.”
Specifically, the lawmakers want the government ethics office to investigate whether the $500 million loan violates the Constitution’s Emolument Clause; whether Trump sought and obtained consent from Congress for the loan; and whether any federal statutes were violated in the easing of sanctions on ZTE.
“As you know, the issue of U.S. policy being manipulated by a foreign entity or the personal business interests of a public official is of grave concern to the American people,” the lawmakers wrote.