During an interview on NPR on Tuesday morning, Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council, deflected concerns about the Trump family profiting from its business dealings with China at the same time they’re developing policy toward the country by asserting that the American people simply don’t care about their conflicts of interest and corruption.
Host Steve Inskeep alluded to recent reports about Ivanka Trump getting new Chinese trademarks and a state-owned Chinese construction company investing $500 million in a Trump-branded project in Indonesia, and asked Navarro, “as you know, the president has maintained ownership of his company, has business interests around the world. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, has business interests in China and just got a bunch more trademarks approved. How do you reassure people that in all of his decisions, the president is acting in the national interest rather than his interests or family’s business interests?”
Navarro did not try and reassure people that Trump is actually acting in the national interest. Instead, he suggested that the question itself is offensive, and argued that people have more important things to worry about.
“I think it’s unfortunate when anybody takes the discussion in that direction,” Navarro said. “I think the American people would rather focus on how to stop China from taking the seed corn of our future prosperity, so that’s what I’m focused on. Can we stay on that, sir?”
But the Trump family’s conflicts of interest can impact policy. For instance, shortly after the state-owned Chinese construction company decided to invest $500 million in the Trump-branded project, President Trump posted a bizarre tweet on behalf of the Chinese phone company ZTE — a company that had been hit hard by the Commerce Department for violating a ban on American companies “selling components to ZTE for seven years after it illegally shipped goods made with U.S. parts to Iran and North Korea,” according to Reuters.
President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2018
Administration officials struggled to explain the president’s sudden concern about the unemployment rate in China. Two days after Trump posted the tweet, his nominee to head the newly created National Counterintelligence and Security Center testified that ZTE actually represents a national security threat. Nevertheless, Trump has persisted in saying he’d like to help the company.
Navarro is not the first administration official to struggle to defend the Trump family’s conflicts of interest. During a press briefing earlier this month, Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah was asked to explain how the Trump Organization’s involvement in a project in Indonesia partially financed by the Chinese government adheres to the Constitution’s emoluments clause and Trump’s personal promise not to pursue new foreign business deals while he’s president.
Shah couldn’t do it.
“I’ll have to refer you to the Trump Organization,” he said. “You’re asking about a private organization’s dealings that may have to do with a foreign government. It’s not something I can speak to.”