Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who will soon be running his global business empire, took part in her father’s first official discussion with the president of Argentina last week, according to the Argentine leader.
President Mauricio Macri of Argentina told the Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, that he had spoken with Ivanka Trump when he called her father to congratulate him on his victory in the U.S. presidential election.
It was the second time in a week that Americans only learned that the president-elect’s daughter had been involved in her father’s talks with a world leader because of the routine transparency of a foreign government.
On Thursday, after Trump barred reporters from attending his meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, photographs released by the Japanese government showed that Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, were present for the meeting at Trump Tower.
Trump’s transition office has released no details of his call with Macri but denied an Argentine journalist’s report that the president-elect had used the opportunity to ask for help in getting a building permit from the Buenos Aires city council for a Trump Office tower.
A spokesperson for Macri also denied the allegation that Trump had asked for a business favor during the call, but, according to Uki Goñi of The Guardian, the original source was someone on Macri’s staff.
The claim was first made on Sunday’s edition of “Journalism for Everyone,” a popular television program hosted by Jorge Lanata. That program has some comic elements, but it previous reporting includes a corruption investigation that led to criminal charges against a business partner of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
At the start of his show on Sunday night, Lanata told the audience that he had inside information on what Macri was asked to do during the call. “Trump asked him to authorize a building he’s constructing in Buenos Aires,” Lanata said, “it wasn’t just geopolitical chat.”
Later in the show, the journalist who broke the story, Romina Manguel, explained that Trump’s business partners in Argentina, Felipe Yaryura and Moses Yellati of the YY Development Group, are trying to get permission to build a 35-story tower, Trump Office Buenos Aires, on the city’s July 9 Avenue.
As Susan Simpson, a Washington lawyer and blogger who is an expert on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, pointed out, earlier reports in the Argentine press said that Macri’s call to the president-elect was facilitated by Yaryura, Trump’s business partner in the Buenos Aires project.
Yaryura, Simpson notes, is close enough to the Trump family to have spent election night with them in New York.
As world leaders scrambled to find ways to contact Trump — and Australia’s prime minister, for instance, managed to get the celebrity developer’s phone number from the golfer Greg Norman — Macri was reportedly anxious to make contact, in part because he had openly supported Hillary Clinton during the election campaign.
Since Trump has apparently been conducting these calls with foreign leaders on unsecured phone lines — after devoting much of the campaign to complaining about Clinton’s use of a private email account during her time as secretary of state — it seems possible that at least one foreign government might possess a recording of the conversation with Macri. If Trump did ask Macri about a building permit for his tower, anyone with audio of those remarks would seem to have leverage over the incoming president.
In an odd twist, Macri himself is a former business associate of Trump’s. In the 1980s, the current Argentine president’s father, Franco, who was a developer, was involved in a complex New York real estate deal with Trump, as Wayne Barrett explained in his book “Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth.”
Although Jason Miller, a spokesperson for Trump, insisted Manguel’s reporting on the call was inaccurate, the fact that Ivanka Trump took part in the discussion renewed questions about whether the family has taken any steps to prevent its business interests from mingling with those of the government her father is about to lead.
Trump has promised to have Ivanka and her brothers, Donald Jr. and Eric, run his company during his presidency, but even he has admitted that this arrangement would not be the sort of “blind trust” every president for the past four decades has used to prevent their financial interests from conflicting with those of the country. Since Trump has ignored the precedent that all candidates for the White House should make their financial interests public, by releasing their tax returns, it is difficult for the public to know what conflicts he might have.
As Richard Painter and Norman Eisen, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyers for President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, explained in the Washington Post:
A blind trust is defined by federal law as one in which a federal official selects an independent trustee (with no familial ties) who sells the official’s known assets and purchases investments unknown to the official. That is what makes it blind.
The president-elect and his spokespeople have instead suggested that he will allow his children to guide his enterprises while he retains all or most of the ownership interest. This arrangement has two major flaws. First, Trump will know what is in the trust. (He cannot put Trump Tower in a blind trust and then forget that he owns it.) Second, he knows the people who will be managing the assets; he is their father. This is the opposite of a blind trust. It is a demand that the American people blindly trust Trump and his family.
In an interview with the New York Times on Monday, Painter added that, unless Trump liquidates his assets before his inauguration, he would be in danger of violating the Emoluments Clause, a provision of the Constitution that bars federal office holders from accepting any kind of compensation or gift “from any king, prince or foreign state.”
Trump is known to have a number of financial relationships with companies controlled by foreign governments.
For his part, Trump seemed to dismiss concerns about his entanglements as unimportant in an angry tweet late on Monday in which he blamed the media for making “a big deal” of his lack of any plan to deal with the conflicts.
Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world.Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 22, 2016