November 22, 2016

This morning Stephanie Ruhle interviewed Steve Schooner, a professor at George Washington University Law School, and an expert on procurement and government ethics.

Schooner has little to no hope that Trump is going to change his ways and all of a sudden eliminate the conflicts of interest that surround his election and potential Presidency.

STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC: More on those conflicts of interest for Donald Trump. According to The Washington Post, at least 111 Trump companies have done business with 18 countries and territories on multiple continents. One is India. In fact, three Indian executives working on a Trump complex in Mumbai met with the President-elect last week, after the election, and posted this picture. That has only fueled the questions about how the Trump team intends to deal with the issue. I want to bring in Steve Schooner, an expert on government contracts and procurement and a professor at George Washington University Law School. I want to start with these articles out over the weekend. The first, "The Washington Post" piece that talked to foreign diplomats that came to Trump's new hotel in Washington. Donald Trump's hotel has "a director of diplomatic sales." This is common for DC Hotels. But this hotel is owned by the next President of the United States. And we actually read in the piece that there were diplomats who said they're surely going to stay at the Trump hotel as a friendly gesture to the President. They don't want to insult him.

STEVE SCHOONER, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: Absolutely unacceptable. I mean, it seems to me -- it seems to me that the obvious place to start here is that, I mean, he's got to get out of the lease contract. He's a landlord and a tenant in a hotel with the United States government. It's unacceptable.

RUHLE: Unacceptable in theory, but legally, is it unacceptable?

SCHOONER: Well, there's a couple things to keep in mind. When in doubt, we can always just read the contract. The contract specifically says that no elected official of the United States government can share or benefit from the lease. Now, it's a 60-year lease with the GSA, but the language is unequivocally clear. But much more importantly, any time we talk about ethics and an organization, anyone who understands the field understands an organization's people look up and around for models of behavior. The unequivocal message so far from the Trump organization is ethics, conflicts of interest, focus, and the issues that we generally care about in terms of ethical behavior just don't matter. It seems like self-enrichment is far more important than the important issues we have to deal with governing the nation. And that's a real concern.

RUHLE: If you're saying we have to look at the contract, who would revoke the contract?

SCHOONER: GSA should end the contract, no question, between the election just over a week ago and the inauguration, the Trump organization should sit down with the GSA and work out a way to get out of the contract. If the Trump organization is unwilling to do so, and I expect they're not, GSA should simply terminate the contract. If they get sued, pay the monetary damages. The reality is, the amount of money at stake is far less important than the principles here.

RUHLE: Okay.

SCHOONER: The idea that the President of the United States is going to send a message that the rules don't apply to him and the rules do apply, the idea that self-interest is going to be the dominant focus or the primary focus of the President of the United States, every decision that the President makes is going to affect a Trump organization interest somewhere around the world. And that's going to be a concern indefinitely.

RUHLE: But does that matter legally? And does it matter to the American people? Because I turn to The New York Times article about three Indian business partners. Donald Trump has said, and we heard Donald Trump surrogates say, when and if he's elected, he will not care about the Trump businesses. It's just the country. Now, last week when he was President-elect, focused on making his White House staff and cabinet picks, he met with three Indian business partners. So if you say that this is an issue, this is unethical, what's to be done about it?

SCHOONER: Well, the Constitution does talk about emolument. You may talk about the fact he may have an impeachment issue because you have foreign states basically paying money to the Trump organization by using their hotels. The point you made earlier is so important. I want the President of the United States to focus on the nation. I don't want the President of the United States focused on his business interests. And what he's talked about so far with the blind trust, they don't even understand the concept. As long as his family is owning the family-owned business, of which he's the primary share owner and beneficiary, we do not have the necessary separation we need to expect from our chief executive and our commander in chief.

RUHLE: What gives you any confidence that the things you want will be addressed?

SCHOONER: There's no confidence whatsoever. So we're going to need to see some important actions, difficult choices made by government officials and by Congress. I think that it would not be very difficult for GSA to do the right thing and get out of the contract before the inauguration. As for the larger issues, it's going to take Congressional action and frankly the private sector is going to have to move through public interest litigation. I don't expect the Trump organization to do the right thing.

Mind you, he's not even President yet.

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