On Sunday, seemingly out of nowhere, President Donald Trump tweeted that he was going to ease crushing sanctions on Chinese phone company ZTE, which, under President Barack Obama’s administration, pissed off the United States by selling Iran’s largest telecom firm a powerful surveillance system capable of spying on its citizens.
After an investigation in 2012, the U.S found that ZTE was shipping millions of dollars’ worth of American products to Iran. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. didn’t kick it with Iran, so ZTE would order products that Iran wanted and then ship them as a middleman. It’s like the time my homeboy got banned from the grocery store for stealing and he would have to give me his money to buy his stuff. Anyway, the U.S. found out what was going on and issued heavy sanctions against ZTE. For seven years the U.S. would not ship any parts to the large cellphone company, and without these parts the company couldn’t function.
Well, it turns out that there’s a reason Trump had a sudden change of heart. According to HuffPost, three days after the Chinese government—which just happens to own 33 percent of ZTE—poured $1 billion into an Indonesian project that will carry Trump’s name, Trump took to Twitter to say that he’s letting the company off the hook.
Here’s how HuffPost explains the president’s abrupt about-face.
Trump did not mention in that tweet or its follow-ups that on Thursday, the developer of a theme park resort outside of Jakarta had signed a deal to receive as much as $500 million in Chinese government loans, as well as another $500 million from Chinese banks. Trump’s family business, the Trump Organization, has a deal to license the Trump name to the resort, which includes a golf course and hotels.
Trump, despite his promises to do so during the campaign, has not divested himself of his businesses, and continues to profit from them.
“You do a good deal for him, he does a good deal for you. Quid pro quo,” said Richard Painter, the White House ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush and now a Democratic candidate for Senate in Minnesota.
“This appears to be yet another violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution,” Painter said, referring to the prohibition against the president receiving payments from foreign governments.
The White House didn’t respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. But the Trump Organization did acknowledge on Monday that it is involved in the “MNC Lido City” project, which will reportedly bear the Trump name, but did not respond to questions about how much the company will make for licensing fees.
After Trump’s initial tweet clearing the way for ZTE to be up and running again left many on both sides of the aisle scratching their heads, Trump followed up on Monday by tweeting this:
ZTE, the large Chinese phone company, buys a big percentage of individual parts from U.S. companies. This is also reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi.
Notice that Trump again failed to mention that his business will profit directly from his pay-to-play administration.
“This is stunning. They perpetually find new things to surprise me,” Robert Weissman, president of the open-government-advocacy group Public Citizen, told HuffPost.
“The idea of the president intervening in a law-enforcement matter to satisfy a foreign government is extraordinary. And it’s extraordinary because it doesn’t happen. Opening that door threatens the integrity of all corporate law enforcement.”
Trump doesn’t adhere to laws—he runs on money and dragon energy and applause—and as such, the biggest business Trump operates is the American government, which, it appears, is always open to the highest bidder.