President Donald Trump has promised not to involve himself in his company’s decisions while he’s president. But his adult sons have no responsibility to stay out of politics while they mind the family business.
In recent weeks, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump have re-emerged as their father’s most ardent cheerleaders, defending the president against perceived slights, helping raise money for Republicans and rallying supporters for the nascent 2020 re-election campaign – all while prominently serving as the faces and behind-the-scenes managers of the family’s valuable brand.
They say they’re following the letter of an ethics arrangement that states they’re not to talk about the family business with their dad, and in turn that the president shouldn’t discuss government business with his sons or the company’s executives.
Last Saturday, during a GOP fundraising dinner in Dallas, Donald Trump Jr. insisted that his interactions with his father have been minimal since the inauguration. “I basically have zero contact with him at this point,” he said, according to NBC News.
A White House spokeswoman referred questions about the presidential family to the Trump Organization. In a joint statement to POLITICO, Eric and Donald Trump Jr. defended their right to speak up about their dad’s White House work while simultaneously running the family business.
“We do not have any role in the current administration and take the separation of the Trump Organization and the office of the president very seriously. With that said, we will always be supportive of our father, the man he is, the values that he instilled in us and will express our own views publicly as we see fit. Our father has the most important job in the world and we could not be more proud of him,” they said.
The brothers – who have maintained a full travel schedule in recent months opening, exploring and promoting Trump properties from Uruguay to the Dominican Republic, Dubai and Canada – have found plenty of ways to communicate with their father and his administration.
On Friday, POLITICO reported Donald Trump Jr. has recruited a hunting friend – former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Jason Hairston – to be a liaison with the White House, the Interior Department and sportsmen’s groups when it comes to conservation and public lands issues.
Like his father, Donald Trump Jr. is a prolific social media user who eagerly shares his opinions on presidential politics to his more than 1.4 million followers – a group that includes @realDonaldTrump, who follows only 40 other people. Last week, for example, the younger Trump tweeted or retweeted more than two dozen times about the MSNBC report revealing two pages of the president’s previously unreported 2005 federal tax returns.
“Thank you Rachel Maddow for proving to your #Trump hating followers how successful @realDonaldTrump is & that he paid $40mm in taxes! #Taxes” he wrote.
Sandwiched among his political posts are repeated references to the family business, including a thank you to Golf Inc. Magazine for an award bestowed upon Trump’s Turnberry course in Scotland and urging golfers to take advantage of daylight savings time by booking a tee time at Trump’s course outside Charlotte, North Carolina.
Eric Trump’s Twitter feed blends politics and family business too. Amid recent posts about the Trump winery in Virginia and its golf courses, he’s retweeted White House adviser Kellyanne Conway bemoaning network news for its lack of coverage about Hillary Clinton’s ties to Russia and a post from his father about the country’s improving economy. There’s also a picture of Eric Trump and his sister Ivanka at the White House earlier this month, posing along the colonnade near the Rose Garden: “Great seeing @IvankaTrump and the kids today! Miss her back in New York! #Washington #MAGA” he wrote.
That reunion picture went up a few hours after Eric Trump participated in a media event at the nearby Trump International Hotel to promote the PGA Senior Championship, which runs over Memorial Day weekend at Trump National in Northern Virginia. The tournament will give the president’s brand a national television audience, and Eric Trump vowed it will deliver. “On behalf of my entire family and on behalf of our entire team, I promise we’re going to make you immensely proud,” he said.
Eric Trump’s wife Lara has also gotten in on the action. She spoke before the president earlier this week at a Wednesday night campaign rally in Nashville. “Music City! How are y’all feeling tonight? I have to tell you it is so nice to get out of New York City and be right here in Tennessee with all my fellow deplorables,” she said during her four-minute introduction, which her husband later shared on Twitter.
As long as President Trump maintains ownership of his companies while he serves in the White House, his family will be in an ethical quagmire, argued Norm Eisen, the former Obama White House ethics lawyer and one of the most outspoken critics of the Trump business arrangements.
“This is an illustration of the problem that’s existed from the beginning. There are no boundaries here,” Eisen said.
Even some Republicans say the Trump sons’ activism worries them. “I wish personally that they just kind of make it church and state,” said a Republican lobbyist who sees the Trump sons’ recent political forays as easy fodder for their critics. “If Obama did it, my hair would be on fire.”
To Trump allies, the sons’ expressions of support for their father’s politics and his policies is a matter of free speech. They note that other family members of prominent politicians have taken on active roles in politics and fundraising while running their own businesses, including Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, and former President George W. Bush, who had a stake in the ownership of the Texas Rangers while his father, George H.W. Bush, was in the White House.
“What the opposition to Trump is basically asking is that Don Jr. and Eric go into a state of retirement while their father sits as president,” Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer to President Trump, said in a recent interview.
Added Matt Schlapp, a former White House political director for President George W. Bush, “No ethics rule can prevent someone from being the son of a president. No ethics law can prevent a citizen from fully exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Schlapp, who recently hosted President Trump and some of his most senior White House aides at the Conservative Political Action Conference, questioned why Trump’s sons should stop making statements about their father’s administration on social media.
“Twitter is a very personal way of communicating about your life and about what you love and about what you hate,” he said. “I think it’d be a mistake to ask the presidents’ sons to forfeit communicating in that way simply because their dad is the president.”
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