Countries Listed On Trump's Refugee Ban Don't Include Those He Has Business With President Donald Trump's refugee ban in the Middle East could be one of the first conflicts of interest for the president, as his bans avoided nations that he has business ties in.
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Countries Listed On Trump's Refugee Ban Don't Include Those He Has Business With

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Countries Listed On Trump's Refugee Ban Don't Include Those He Has Business With

Countries Listed On Trump's Refugee Ban Don't Include Those He Has Business With

Countries Listed On Trump's Refugee Ban Don't Include Those He Has Business With

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/512199324/512199325" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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President Donald Trump's refugee ban in the Middle East could be one of the first conflicts of interest for the president, as his bans avoided nations that he has business ties in.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are continuing our coverage of the Trump administration's executive orders implementing a permanent ban on those coming from Syria and a temporary ban of citizens coming from six additional Muslim-majority countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan.

Now, one aspect of the new policy that has drawn notice are countries that are not on the list, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. And those are the countries of origin of a number of people who carried out terrorist attacks in the U.S. starting with September 11, 2001. Those countries also happen to be places where President Trump and his family have business interests.

That's one reason ethics experts continue to raise questions about how President Trump is addressing potential conflicts or even the appearance of them. NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax is heading up our coverage of this issue, so she is with us now to talk us through it.

MARILYN GEEWAX, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So can you give us an example of what business deals Mr. Trump has in the Middle East?

GEEWAX: He has a lot of properties, mostly golf courses in the United Arab Emirates. He has luxury towers in Turkey. In recent years, he's also formed companies in Egypt. And in 2015, his daughter, Ivanka, who's had a very prominent role in the Trump Organization said that she was looking at what she called opportunities in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The Trump Organization has all kinds of operations in other Muslim-majority countries outside of the Middle East like Indonesia, Azerbaijan. But those places were not added to his list of places that need extra restrictions.

MARTIN: So are the countries Mr. Trump has singled out places in which he has done or has pursued business deals?

GEEWAX: Well, according to his campaign financial filings, he does not have business interests in those countries where he's imposing these new restrictions. Now, it's fair to point out that these countries do have very serious problems. They've had civil wars. They have extremist groups there, and that raises concerns. And those are reflected in U.S. Immigration vetting systems that we have in place already.

So that list has raised the hackles of ethics experts. They fear that this list was shaped at least in part by Trump's desire to remain on good terms with the governments where he is doing business.

MARTIN: Tell us a bit more about what these ethics experts are saying.

GEEWAX: One of them, for example, spoke with NPR. That's Norm Eisen. He's a former ethics adviser to President Obama, and he's a fellow now at Brookings Institution. He says that it looks to him like Trump was singling out countries that did not pay him tribute. That was his words.

You know, it's very hard to get into the head of the president to know what he's thinking, but that's exactly the point about having conflicts of interests. It makes people question your motives. In fact, Eisen says this is the kind of thing that could even lead to a constitutional crisis.

MARTIN: Well, those are very strong words. What does this have to do with the Constitution?

GEEWAX: There's this thing called the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution. That's a kind of strange word, but it means gifts or bribes from foreign governments. The Founding Fathers were very clear that they did not want a president enriching himself from foreign governments, so there are a lot of people who are questioning whether or not allowing some Middle Eastern countries to have people enter the United States while putting other people on a banned list reflects more the president's interests rather than the best interests of the country.

MARTIN: That's NPR's senior business editor Marilyn Geewax joining us once again from our studios in Washington, D.C. Marilyn, thank you.

GEEWAX: You're welcome.

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How Does Trump's Immigration Freeze Square With His Business Interests?

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday that puts a freeze on immigration from seven countries: Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Sudan. Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images hide caption

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Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday that puts a freeze on immigration from seven countries: Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Sudan.

Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Even as President Trump takes steps to restrict visitors from some majority-Muslim countries, he and his family continue to do business in some of the others.

Ethics experts question whether that might indicate conflicts between Trump's business interests and his role as U.S. president.

The executive action, "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," targets seven nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Trump has no business interests in those countries.

One other thing they have in common, as NPR's Greg Myre writes: "No Muslim extremist from any of these places has carried out a fatal attack in the U.S. in more than two decades."

The 19 terrorists in the Sept. 11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, Myre points out. They are among the Muslim-majority countries not affected by Trump's immigration freeze, but where Trump does business.

He has significant commercial interests in Turkey and Azerbaijan, is developing properties in Indonesia and Dubai, and has formed companies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. His daughter Ivanka said in 2015 that the company was looking at "multiple opportunities in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Saudi Arabia — the four areas where we are seeing the most interest."

Critics said it appears that Trump is picking favorites, overlooking terrorist links in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey that have their own history of terrorism.

And there appear to be conflict-of-interest questions, which could raise legal and constitutional concerns for the Trump White House.

Norman Eisen, a former ethics adviser to President Obama and a current fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, told NPR in an interview:

"I don't believe that our Constitution allows the president to order State Department and other U.S. government employees to discriminate between otherwise identical people, favoring those from countries he likes because they give him unconstitutional foreign emoluments, and punishing those from other countries that do not pay such personal and illegal tribute to him."

Emoluments are gifts. A provision of the U.S. Constitution, called the emoluments clause, prohibits U.S. officials from taking gifts of value from foreign officials or governments.

Eisen said of Trump: "Normally he would, of course, have freer rein legally in these foreign policy, immigration and refugee matters, but his open and notorious violation of the Constitution changes that. This is the corrupt misconduct of a medieval potentate, not an American president."

Speaking with NPR Friday, Eisen said the executive action may lead to lawsuits, for example by American citizens whose family members are now barred from joining them in this country. "These decisions about who to let in and not to let into the United States can now be challenged, because there's an unconstitutional basis for the president's decision," he said.

The Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, hit the same point harder, saying Trump was "carpet-bombing U.S. foreign policy":

One might think that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two countries that nearly all the 9/11 hijackers came from — and which are currently known to be backing ISIS and other terrorists, in Saudi Arabia's case, and facing serious terror attacks on their own soil largely in response to government repression, in Egypt's — would be included in Trump's twisted analysis as potential sources of terrorism.

But no, those countries were ignored. Conflicts of interest? Nah, just a coincidence.