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Trump presidency

'Kleptocracy' charge leveled at Donald Trump

President Trump still risks charges of "kleptocracy" and "profiting" from public office, says former US ethics chief Walter Shaub. He has told a UK newspaper that US governance has become an "embarrassment."

Looking up at the facade - with US flags - of the Trump International Hotel in Washington (Reuters/K. Lamarque)

Washington's Trump hotel was opened last September

Shaub, who quit mid-July to join a US better-governance group, accused Trump on Monday of failing to disentangle his presidency from his hotel empire - despite putting his business into a family trust.

"It certainly risks people starting to refer to us as a kleptocracy," Shaub told Britain's Guardian newspaper, adding:"His actions create the appearance of profiting from the presidency."

Close-up photo of Walter Shaub

Trump risking charge of 'kleptocracy,' says Shaub

The Cambridge [University] Dictionary defines kleptocracy as "a society whose leaders make themselves rich and powerful by stealing from the rest of the people."

In the past, Trump's White House has strongly disputed allegations of ethical risks stemming from Trump business involvements.

US 'an embarrassment'

Shaub, who previously directed the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and is now a director of the nonprofit US watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, said the United States under Trump was "an embarrassment."

"We're running around the world trying to promote anti-corruption measures and we don't even have our own house in order," he said.

"Now we're anything but that," said Shaub, who is among 17 officials and candidates for office who have parted ways from Trump since he took office in January.

Washington had been thrust into an "ethics crisis," he asserted.

'His own landlord'

Referring to the Trump International Hotel, between the White House and the US Capitol, Shaub said: "It's wildly inappropriate for him to be running a hotel that he's leasing from the federal government."

"As a president, you shouldn't be doing business with the United States government. He's his own landlord at this point," Shaub said.

Trump is the sole beneficiary of a trust run by his eldest son and the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, and retains powers to revoke that arrangement at any time, according to documents published in February by the investigative journalism venture ProPublica.

Past US presidents, such as John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, put their assets into blind trusts - not ones overseen by family members - before taking office.

Intentions left indecipherable

Shaub said the Trump trust arrangements were "meaningless." 

"We can't know whether his decisions are motivated by his policy aims or his financial interests," Shaub said.

"And that certainly alone creates the problem because, whatever his intent, people having to ask undermines the faith in governmental decision-making and puts a cloud over everything that government does," he added.

Countries, which previously rented space elsewhere, had "suddenly booked major events at his hotel," Shaub said.

The public was left wondering whether their intention was to "basically funnel money to the president in the hopes that it will influence his decision-making."

"It may not, but again, it undermines faith in the integrity of government if we don't know," Shaub concluded.

Kanada Donald Jr. Trump in Vancouver (Getty Images/J. Vinnick)

Trustee for dad - Donald Trump Jr.

Charges filed

In June, Maryland and the US capital filed lawsuits against Trump, alleging that heavy spending by foreign diplomats and embassies at Trump luxury hotels and offices in Washington and New York violated the US Constitution.

The Associated Press reported in March that the Trump International Hotel, near the White House, had "become the place to see, be seen, drink, network - even live - for the still-emerging Trump set."

'Center of the universe'

AP quoted a Dallas-based fundraiser for Trump's past election campaign, Doug Deason: "I've never come through this lobby and not seen someone I know."

The hotel had become "literally the center of the universe," Deason said.

In February, Kuwait's embassy hosted a reception in the hotel's ballroom. In May, the hotel was used by the Turkey-US Business Council and American Turkish Council.

The Guardian noted that Trump had business interests in at least 20 countries, including a $150 million (127 million euro) tower in the Philippines, golf courses in Ireland and Scotland and "numerous" projects in India.

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