Ethics Questions Raised Over Sale Of Trump Caribbean Resort

May 10, 2017
Originally published on May 10, 2017 10:42 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

There's a new property listing that just went on the market in the Caribbean. It has incredible views, sleeps 20, even includes a staff. The seller is President Trump. This would be the first sale of a major Trump asset since he became president. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The exterior views of Le Chateau des Palmiers, President Trump's resort in St. Martin, are impressive - two villas on 5 acres of land overlooking the deep blue waters of the Caribbean, with swimming pools, tennis court and grand staircases. Trump bought the resort about four years ago, when the listing price was just under $20 million. It's been available to rent starting at $6,000 a night. Now the property is on the market again, this time complete with a potential conflict of interest.

NOAH BOOKBINDER: It seems like buying a major piece of property for millions of dollars is a particularly strong way to potentially curry favor with the president.

NORTHAM: Noah Bookbinder is executive director of Citizens for Responsibilities and Ethics in Washington. He says there's every reason to be concerned that a buyer could pay significantly more than the property is worth. Sotheby's International is handling the deal but not listing the price. Bookbinder says one thing he'll watch for is how much the property goes for.

BOOKBINDER: And two is who is this buyer? What are their business interests, financial interests, political interests? And is there some possibility that they might seek to influence the president? Again, not necessarily in a quid pro quo kind of way, but in a, now you look at me favorably and you'll listen to me when I give you a call at some point later.

NORTHAM: There have been calls for Trump to divest his business interests to avoid this type of conflict. The president placed his assets in a revocable trust and handed over daily control of his business empire to his adult sons. Ethics experts say that's not enough to shield the president from deals such as the sale of the Caribbean resort.

STEVEN SCHOONER: It's utterly disingenuous to think that the president won't know who purchased the property.

NORTHAM: Steven Schooner is with the George Washington University Law School. He says the only way forward is for Trump to set up a true blind trust and not start selling valuable properties.

SCHOONER: When in doubt, he should hold properties of significant value. So while it is true historically that President Nixon sold a residence, as a general rule presidents have not engaged in large-scale financial transactions that are intended to reap significant windfalls for them.

NORTHAM: The Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment about the sale. Jackie Northam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.