A Democratic House could probe Trump business ties abroad
Paris – President Donald Trump’s Russian business ties, Jared Kushner’s relationship with the Saudi crown prince, Ivanka Trump’s Chinese trademarks – all could come under new scrutiny by the Democrats when they take over the House of Representatives.While Trump retains broad power over national security and U.S. foreign policy, the midterm election result exposes him to congressional investigations that could reverberate beyond American borders.
Now that they have taken control of the House from the Republicans, Democratic leaders of many committees will have subpoena powers enabling them to obtain documents, email and testimony.
If the White House doesn’t block such requests in court, they could shed light on Trump’s international business empire – and what role it’s playing in U.S. relations with the world.
Here’s a look at what the election result might mean overseas:
TRUMP AND RUSSIA
For Moscow, the Democratic victory means a probable reopening of the House investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The Republican-led Intelligence Committee closed its probe into Russian meddling, saying it had found no evidence of collusion. Democrats argue that the Republicans ignored many key facts and witnesses.
A congressional probe would be more public than special counsel Robert Mueller’s current investigation into Russian election interference – and wouldn’t run the risk of being shut down by Trump.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denies any involvement in Trump’s election victory, and the Kremlin shrugged off concerns that a Democratic-controlled House would increase pressure on Russia.
“It’d be hard to make (the relationship) even worse,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday.
A renewed investigation could serve Kremlin interests by deepening division in America’s political arena. What Putin would not favor would be investigations or sanctions that would further damage the well-connected Russian oligarchs believed to have links to Trump, or to have helped fund U.S. meddling efforts.
Republicans warn that more investigations could blow back against the Democrats for the 2020 U.S. election.
PRESSURE ON THE SAUDIS
Then there’s Saudi Arabia, and the relationship between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The ties between the two men, who are said to communicate frequently, could come under increased scrutiny by Democrats.
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have long been key allies, and Trump made the country his first stop abroad as president.
But the crown prince has lost supporters in Congress since the Oct. 2 killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and a critic of the crown prince, inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The slaying was allegedly carried out by agents close to the prince.
Democrats could try to block major arms sales to Saudi Arabia and curtail U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which the prince launched as defense minister in 2015. The conflict has become widely unpopular with some members of Congress, and aid agencies say it has created the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe, with millions facing starvation amid a Saudi blockade of the Arab world’s poorest country.
The U.S. assists the Saudi-led coalition with in-air refueling and intelligence on targets, and supplies the kingdom with fighter jets and bombs used in the war.
TRADEMARKS IN CHINA
Democrats could also look into businesses in the Trump family’s business empire – notably the 18 trademarks that China has granted in recent months to companies linked to Trump and his daughter Ivanka.
Some question whether they represent a conflict of interest. China says it handles all trademark applications equally, but House committees could probe whether Beijing can exploit the Trump family’s substantial intellectual property holdings in China to its political or diplomatic advantage.
“There’s so much to the Trump administration that could be investigated, it’s an unprecedented situation of major business entanglements around the world,” said Dana Allin, senior fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It’s very difficult to rule out the idea that foreign policy decisions are not being kept separate from business interests.”
China would not talk publicly about the U.S. election results. “I don’t want to comment on that, otherwise I will run the risk of being accused of interfering in their midterm election,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
WHAT WON’T CHANGE
Trump is still the one in charge and is not expected to change his America-first strategy, or stop running roughshod over erstwhile allies when it serves his interests.
A Democratic House isn’t going to put the U.S. back in the Iranian nuclear accord or the Paris climate agreement, and is unlikely to challenge Trump’s protectionist line on trade.
“Many Democrats support the president’s trade agenda,” lamented Dieter Kempf, the head of the Federation of German Industries, the main business lobby group in Germany, a leading exporter. “The U.S. administration’s confrontational course is and remains a danger to the world economy.”