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Countries Listed On Trump's Refugee Ban Don't Include Those He Has Business With


We are continuing our coverage of the Trump administration's executive orders implementing a permanent ban on those coming from Syria and a temporary ban of citizens coming from six additional Muslim-majority countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan.

Now, one aspect of the new policy that has drawn notice are countries that are not on the list, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. And those are the countries of origin of a number of people who carried out terrorist attacks in the U.S. starting with September 11, 2001. Those countries also happen to be places where President Trump and his family have business interests.

That's one reason ethics experts continue to raise questions about how President Trump is addressing potential conflicts or even the appearance of them. NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax is heading up our coverage of this issue, so she is with us now to talk us through it.


MARTIN: So can you give us an example of what business deals Mr. Trump has in the Middle East?

GEEWAX: He has a lot of properties, mostly golf courses in the United Arab Emirates. He has luxury towers in Turkey. In recent years, he's also formed companies in Egypt. And in 2015, his daughter, Ivanka, who's had a very prominent role in the Trump Organization said that she was looking at what she called opportunities in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The Trump Organization has all kinds of operations in other Muslim-majority countries outside of the Middle East like Indonesia, Azerbaijan. But those places were not added to his list of places that need extra restrictions.

MARTIN: So are the countries Mr. Trump has singled out places in which he has done or has pursued business deals?

GEEWAX: Well, according to his campaign financial filings, he does not have business interests in those countries where he's imposing these new restrictions. Now, it's fair to point out that these countries do have very serious problems. They've had civil wars. They have extremist groups there, and that raises concerns. And those are reflected in U.S. Immigration vetting systems that we have in place already.

So that list has raised the hackles of ethics experts. They fear that this list was shaped at least in part by Trump's desire to remain on good terms with the governments where he is doing business.

MARTIN: Tell us a bit more about what these ethics experts are saying.

GEEWAX: One of them, for example, spoke with NPR. That's Norm Eisen. He's a former ethics adviser to President Obama, and he's a fellow now at Brookings Institution. He says that it looks to him like Trump was singling out countries that did not pay him tribute. That was his words.

You know, it's very hard to get into the head of the president to know what he's thinking, but that's exactly the point about having conflicts of interests. It makes people question your motives. In fact, Eisen says this is the kind of thing that could even lead to a constitutional crisis.

MARTIN: Well, those are very strong words. What does this have to do with the Constitution?

GEEWAX: There's this thing called the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution. That's a kind of strange word, but it means gifts or bribes from foreign governments. The Founding Fathers were very clear that they did not want a president enriching himself from foreign governments, so there are a lot of people who are questioning whether or not allowing some Middle Eastern countries to have people enter the United States while putting other people on a banned list reflects more the president's interests rather than the best interests of the country.

MARTIN: That's NPR's senior business editor Marilyn Geewax joining us once again from our studios in Washington, D.C. Marilyn, thank you.

GEEWAX: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Marilyn Geewax
Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.