More than 60 Democratic representatives are demanding an ethics investigation into President Trump’s ties to China, following the president’s recent push to rescue Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) posted a letter to David Apol, acting head of the federal government’s ethics office, to Twitter on Sunday, stating that the request was prompted by Trump “advocating” for ZTE just days after the Chinese government gave one of the president’s business endeavors a $500 million loan.
In the letter, lawmakers say the business dealing between the Trump Organization and China may have violated U.S. laws forbidding public officials from accepting payments or gifts from foreign entities without Congress’s approval.
“The Chinese government’s loan provides a clear financial benefit to President Trump,” the letter reads. “Despite the nearly unanimous recommendation by legal experts that he divest from his business interests before assuming the presidency, he failed to do so, instead placing his adult children in charge of day-to-day operations.”
NEW: Will be sending this letter with more than 60 colleagues to demand an ethics investigation into @realDonaldTrump advocating for a Chinese company just days after China’s government gave his company a $500 million loan. pic.twitter.com/EC2fbjz4gr
– David Cicilline (@davidcicilline) May 27, 2018Because Trump still holds interests in his businesses via a revocable trust – an arrangement that allows him to draw funds at his choosing – the president will be able to oversee the project and “earn a profit if it succeeds,” according to the letter.
Three days after the loan was reported, the lawmakers charge, Trump announced that he ordered his administration to buoy ZTE, saving it from financial collapse. Trump sought to revive ZTE earlier this month, roiling lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who have sought to fortify restrictions on the company’s ties to the U.S.
Despite a wave of bipartisan pushback, Trump on Friday appeared to confirm that his administration had reached a deal to put ZTE back in business.
“I closed it down then let it reopen with high level security guarantees, change of management and board, must purchase U.S. parts and pay a $1.3 Billion fine,” he tweeted late Friday. “Dems do nothing but complain and obstruct.”
Cicilline and the letter’s co-signatories raised alarm over the short time frame between the loan’s announcement and Trump’s hinting at a renewed deal with ZTE.
Lawmakers went on to ask the ethics office to investigate whether the administration improperly secured the $500 million loan from China, whether Trump sought and obtained congressional approval before accepting the loan, and whether Trump or a member of his administration violated federal statute regarding conflicts of interest or ethics in the decision to ease sanctions on ZTE.
“The Trump administration has yet to give a satisfactory answer about the reason behind and the appropriateness of making concessions to ZTE, a Chinese company that illegally sold U.S. technology to hostile regimes,” they wrote. “The Trump administration has also completely failed to address the suspicious timing between this policy reversal and the Chinese government’s loan to a Trump-linked project.”
“As you know, the issue of U.S. policy being manipulated by a foreign entity or the personal business interests of a public official is of grave concern to the American people. We ask that you promptly conduct a review of this matter and keep us apprised periodically about the progress of your investigation,” the letter concludes.
Lawmakers have previously expressed concerns about ZTE potentially threatening national security. A 2012 House Intelligence Committee report warned congressional leaders to be wary of doing business with ZTE and Chinese competitor Huawei.
Both companies have denied the possibility of the Chinese government hacking their products for purposes of espionage.
ZTE was banned by the Commerce Department from buying tech components after it violated U.S. sanctions by selling equipment to North Korea and Iran.