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How Trump's Business Presents Huge Conflicts of Interest

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump participates in ribbon cutting ceremony for Trump International Hotel
epa05604375 Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump (3L), with sons Eric Trump (L) and Donald Trump Jr. (2L), daughters Ivanka Trump (R) and Tiffany Trump (2R) and his wife Melania Trump (3R) participates in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.SHAWN THEW / EPA

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

How Trump’s business presents huge conflicts of interest

During the general election, Donald Trump railed against the Clinton Foundation, accusing it of being a “pay for play” scheme -- alleging that donors gave money to the charity for access and special favors. “It is now clear that the Clinton Foundation is the most corrupt enterprise in political history,” Trump said back in August. “What they were doing during Crooked Hillary’s time as Secretary of State was wrong then, and it is wrong now. It must be shut down immediately.” But doesn’t that exact-same line of argument apply to Trump and his business interests now that he’s president-elect? Consider:

  • The Washington Post reports how foreign diplomats are now staying at Trump’s DC hotel as a way to curry favor with the new administration. “‘Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, “I love your new hotel!” Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, “I am staying at your competitor?”’ said one Asian diplomat.”
  • The New York Times notes how Trump’s Indian business partners met with him in New York last week. “In a telephone interview, Atul Chordia, one of the developers who met last week with Mr. Trump, played down the appointment as a ‘two-minute’ congratulatory conversation in which no business was transacted and no new projects were discussed. But newspapers in India reported it as a business meeting, illustrated with a photograph of the beaming real estate executives — Atul Chordia, Sagar Chordia and Kalpesh Mehta — flanking the future president, and indicated that the builders and Mr. Trump’s organization are planning further collaborative real estate projects.”
  • And as we mentioned on Friday, daughter Ivanka Trump -- who is likely to help run Trump’s business empire -- sat in on a meeting Thursday with Japan’s prime minister.

Priebus: “We’re looking at this right now”

Asked about these potential conflicts of interest, incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on “Meet the Press” yesterday: “We're looking at this right now Chuck, as well. And like, like I said before, we're going to make sure that no matter what decisions are made, that they're going to be run through counsel. And as you know, there's a White House Counsel's office that will be there, that will be issuing opinions and these matters will all be dealt with, they'll all be dealt with accordingly.” But if the Clinton Foundation was problematic because it was seen as a way to curry favor with a then-secretary of state and possible president, and if the GOP’s call was to shut it down “immediately,” then how is Trump’s business any different? And why shouldn’t immediate action be taken to deal with it? As the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page recommended last week, the only real solution is for Trump to liquidate his stake in his company. "Millions of Americans have put their trust in Mr. Trump to succeed as President and improve their lives, not treat this as a four-year hiatus from his business. The presidential stakes are too high for Mr. Trump to let his family business become a daily political target."

Priebus on a Muslim registry: I'm not going to rule out anything

But … we're not going to have a registry based on a religion”: Also on “Meet” yesterday, Priebus was asked if he could rule out a federal registry for Muslims entering the United States in a Trump administration. His response: “Look, I'm not going to rule out anything. But, but I wouldn't-- we're not going to have a registry based on a religion. But what I think what we're trying to do is say that there are some people, certainly not all people, Chuck, there are some people that are radicalized and there are some people that have to be prevented from coming into this country.”

Recapping Trump’s weekend at Bedminster

NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports, “The president-elect conducted 21 personal meetings with potential cabinet nominees, prominent leaders from business, policy and the military over two days at his weekend home at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. Donald Trump made news on a few different topics and demonstrated that as president-elect he is willing to answer some shouted questions. He frequently addressed the cameras offering that his guests were ‘great’ and the various meetings were ‘good.’ More from O’Donnell: “Trump told us he has made some decisions that he referred to as “a couple deals” though none was announced. When I asked if those deals meant he offered jobs and those offers were accepted, he responded, ‘pretty true.’ He affirmed publicly that he is considering Jim Mattis for secretary of defense, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani for State but added that he is also considering Giuliani for “other things.” Trump said he was looking at billionaire Wilbur Ross for commerce. Advisers strongly hinted we should pay attention to both Mattis and Ross.”

Cabinet Watch

Here is our running list of possible candidates we’ve been hearing about so far. We’ll continue to update it as the president-elect’s team makes its choices final.

  • Secretary of State: Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Nikki Haley, Bob Corker, Mitt Romney
  • Attorney General: Giuliani, Jeff Sessions OFFERED
  • Treasury: Steve Mnuchin, Jeb Hensarling
  • Defense: Jim Talent, Tom Cotton
  • Homeland: Michael McCaul, David Clarke
  • Interior: Sarah Palin
  • HHS: Ben Carson (adviser says he’s declined)
  • Education: Carson (adviser says he’s declined), Michelle Rhee
  • Commerce: Lew Eisenberg, Linda McMahon, Wilbur Ross
  • Transportation: John Mica, Deb Fischer, Lou Barletta
  • Agriculture: Rick Perry, Sid Miller
  • CIA Director: Mike Pompeo OFFERED
  • UN Ambassador: Richard Grenell
  • National Security Adviser: Michael Flynn OFFERED
  • RNC Chair: Ronna Romney McDaniel, David Urban