Trump’s Mideast interests raise ethics concerns

By Jon Gambrell, AP

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The president of the United States holds a trademark in Jordan for a Donald Trump casino, despite the fact that gambling is illegal in the kingdom. It is one of four he received before he ran for office, and suggests that the former casino executive may have had wider hopes for businesses across the Middle East than was previously known.

To keep the trademarks active, the Trump Organization would need to reapply for them during Trump’s four-year term, raising potential ethical concerns for his company in Jordan, a stalwart U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State group and a mediator in relations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Trump Organization told The Associated Press that its “decision to enforce its intellectual property rights is nothing new,” while declining to discuss whether it knew how controversial gambling was in the kingdom.

Jordan’s government acknowledged the trademarks, but that doesn’t mean gambling is in Jordan’s future.

“That does not give any right to the company to practice any activities unless it is formally registered as a company in Jordan and licensed to practice,” government spokesman Mohammed Momani wrote in an email. “Needless to say, gambling is illegal in Jordan, so if a company applies for this, it will be disapproved.”

Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, said the casino trademark raised new concerns about the Trump Organization’s international entanglements. He is part of a lawsuit alleging Trump is violating the U.S. Constitution by allowing his business to accept payments from foreign governments

“We don’t want foreign governments in a position to pay off our politicians with special treatment,” Painter said.

Trump for years tried to enter the Mideast as a businessman, seeing it as an open market for his profitable business of licensing his name to construction projects. He applied for and received trademarks in Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Trump shut down some of his companies in the days after beating Hillary Clinton in the November election, including several connected to a possible venture in Saudi Arabia. While most recent presidents have sold their financial holdings to avoid conflicts, Trump has said that is not necessary. Instead, he has turned managerial control over to his two adult sons, vowing not to pursue more deals abroad and appointing a lawyer to screen his business for conflicts.