WASHINGTON – Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said Secret Service protection for President Trump’s children is “not appropriate” from a conflict of interest standpoint because it could be “intimidating” to the people with whom they are negotiating business deals.
“Corruption statutes apply to the president of the United States. The emoluments clause is pretty clear on foreign transactions – it applies to the president of the United States, so there is no question about that. And yes, I am concerned about his domestic conflicts, I am, and there are going to be questions as to whether his office is being used for personal gain when his children travel with all the protection of – that is appropriate because of their family connection to the president of the United States because of their vulnerabilities for security; that’s intimidating to the people they’re negotiating with on business deals. That, to me, is not appropriate,” Cardin said during a discussion on “Anticorruption in U.S. Foreign Policy under the Trump Administration” at the Council of Foreign Relations on Thursday.
“That’s why we have the tradition in this country that every president has either divested or set up blind trusts in order to avoid that appearance of conflict or conflict situation. President Trump has made the office of the president vulnerable because of his refusal to do that. So if you want to be secretary of State, you had to divest as Secretary [Rex] Tillerson did. But the president of the United States did not, and that’s just wrong,” he added.
Cardin concluded, “So I understand the technical aspects of the conflict statutes as to how you can challenge the president’s actions. But conflicts apply to every person who’s in public life. And the emoluments clause clearly applies to the president.”
Ivanka Trump has an official role in the White House while Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are continuing their work with the Trump Organization.
Last month, it was reported that the Secret Service is conducting an internal investigation over photos that agents may have taken of Trump Jr.’s son.
During the event, Cardin also said he would like to see the Senate GOP leadership consider purging the ability of “an individual senator” to filibuster a bill.
“Because our Senate rules with an individual senator being able to block legislation, that’s wrong. To delay legislation, I get that, we’re a slower body, it takes us longer to learn things than other people, obviously, you know, but for a senator to be able to block is wrong. We haven’t changed that,” he said. “We should talk about it, Democrats and Republicans, recognizing that there will be days that the Democrats are in the minority, there are going to be days the Republicans are in the minority. And let’s get these rules that make some sense.”
Cardin, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s recent comments about Russia and their involvement in Syria. At a Wednesday meeting of the UN Security Council, Haley held up photos of children harmed in Tuesday’s gas attack on a Syrian town. “If Russia has the influence in Syria that it claims to have, we need to see them use it. We need to see them put an end to these horrific acts,” she said. “How many more children have to die before Russia cares?”
Cardin urged Tillerson to learn from Haley.
“Earlier this week, we saw Secretary Tillerson talk about President Assad in that it’d be perfectly OK for him to stay if the people of Syria want him and, of course, later this week we saw the horrific use of chemical weapons once again by President Assad against innocent civilian populations. Of course, you shouldn’t be using chemicals at all. So that lack of moral clarity, that lack of putting a focus on good governance and anticorruption, is very damaging to our ability to advance these issues,” Cardin said.
“Now, let me compare that to Ambassador Haley, who’s been pretty clear about moral clarity issues, and I would just urge President Trump and Secretary Tillerson to take a lesson from Ambassador Haley as to how we need to be clear. Her comments about Russia, I thought, were very, very refreshing,” he added.
Cardin expressed disappointment in Tillerson for not sharing enough information with the public, citing the agenda for Tillerson’s meeting with President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping and his upcoming trip to Russia.
“One of the really disappointing things about Secretary Tillerson is that he’s not sharing a lot of what he’s doing with the American people and the global community, so we don’t know what is happening and the megaphone is important here. So it would be very helpful if the president did something visible to show that human rights is on the agenda,” he said, referring to this week’s meetings with Xi.
“We know that Mr. Tillerson is going to be in Russia. Will he have meetings with the opposition? That’s a very visible sign that he’s open to the human rights agenda issue. Will he make public statements about that?” he added.
Cardin encouraged the White House and Congress to “strengthen” the Organization of American States to address problems in Cuba and Venezuela.
“The interesting point about our hemisphere is that almost every country in our hemisphere are democratic countries. We have a couple of exceptions – make no mistake about it. And in those exception, corruption is widespread. Venezuela is close to a failed state. I’m meeting with the opposition people today from Venezuela to see what we can do,” Cardin said.
“But the government — the courts and government have ignored the elections and the economy is falling apart and it’s extremely corrupt and we have to deal with that in relation to a failed democracy. Invoking the charter is appropriate and, of course, Cuba is not a democratic country. I would never suggest that it is and they have widespread corruption in Cuba. So we have to deal with that,” he added.
Cardin described his experience staying in Venezuela.
“The humanitarian crisis is getting worse and worse. It’s an urgent issue and, fortunately, almost two-thirds of the countries of our hemisphere are prepared to take action. So we’ve just got to get a few more countries to act, and I think we can take some rather dramatic action as it relates to Venezuela,” he said.
“How you implement reform is not easy. I agree with you. You have a history. People get their services by paying bribes. How do you change that? People have safety by paying bribes. They’re used to paying bribes in the Northern Triangle. The hotel I was staying at, I was shocked to find, in a really nice area —I hope it was nice. I was staying there — they pay bribes. They call it rents, but they’re bribes,” he added.