Trump’s ‘contempt’ for a law against bribing foreign officials could land him in hot water with Mueller

Donald Trump.

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Donald Trump.
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Alex Wong/Getty Images

  • President Donald Trump does not like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
  • As Trump’s dealings in India get more attention, some have noted that he could be running afoul of that statute by way of some business partners.

President Donald Trump could be running afoul of a law – one he deemed “horrible” – because of his overseas business interests.

Now, multiple news outlets have looked at how the Trump Organization’s business dealings in India could create some headaches for Trump.

Meanwhile, ethics experts say investigators should probe whether Trump’s business has run afoul of that law, known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

That 1977 law prohibits US business and their partners from bribing or influencing foreign officials to help advance a business deal. In 2012, Trump told CNBC that it was “things like this that cause us to not be able to lead the world.”

“For this country to prosecute because something took place in India is outrageous,” he said.

The Trump Organization has more deals in India than Trump’s namesake business has in any other foreign country, and some of the business partners in those licensing deals – where the Trump Organization provides its name and manages the property under another owner – have been accused of shady practices.

Partners in four of the five projects had come under the microscope from Indian investigators for an array of allegations ranging from bribery and fraud to money laundering, and violations of foreign exchange regulations, ProPublica reported.

“Corruption in India is quite common, particularly in the real estate industry,” ProPublica wrote.

At the same time, a former Indian official accused Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., of pushing a “blatantly illegal” project in Mumbai.

The official, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, whose position is the equivalent of a US governor, said Trump Jr. had asked him to overturn a decision to revoke permits for the Trump Organization’s initial India project.

Donald Trump Jr.

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Donald Trump Jr.
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REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

That project was halted after investigators found “irregularities,” The New Republic wrote, adding that those probing the project were tipped off by a state lawmaker who suspected a $100 million fraud and “gross violations.”

Trump Jr. then traveled to India in April 2012 along with partners and met with Chavan in hopes of getting the project up and running again. It did not happen. But, under a new government in 2014, Trump’s company broke into the market.

‘He has contempt for the law’

“We don’t know whether he is complying with it, but I think that ought to be investigated,” Richard Painter, who served as top ethics lawyer under former President George W. Bush, told Business Insider of President Trump and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “Because he’s got a lot of deals all over the world, many of them are in some of the most corrupt countries.”

He added that India “is actually probably better than a lot of them.”

“He has contempt for the law,” Painter, now a University of Minnesota law professor, said. “I think it’s a big issue. And it just needs to be investigated by the Department of Justice.”

Some of these possible issues would be averted if Trump severed ties with his business, ethicists said. Prior to taking office, Trump passed along control of his business to his two adult sons and a senior Trump Organization executive. He did not do what some lawmakers and ethics experts insisted and divest from his business entirely.

“People are rightfully looking into the president’s business partners to see who might have a financial influence on him,” Jordan Libowitz, a spokesperson for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Business Insider. “In the case of India, the Trump Organization’s largest real estate market outside of the United States, there have been reports about some less than upstanding business partners. Obviously, laws need to be followed and bribery is a bad thing, but President Trump could and still can remove himself from these discussions by following the lead of past presidents and divesting from his businesses.”

As special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents, some speculated that prosecutors could take a look at any violations of the 1977 law.

“Given some of the stories about Trump’s business partners in foreign deal, my guess is that Mueller will be looking at potential FCPA violations,” said Larry Noble, the senior director and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center.

Painter said the FCPA “may come up” in Mueller’s investigation, but he added that the scope of that investigation is “generally” limited to Russia. Trump’s overseas dealings are almost entirely outside of that scope.

Trump has said that if Mueller were to take a dive into his finances, he would be crossing a “red line” that was outside of what he is supposed to be looking at.