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Other View: The president's princelings

Jennifer Rubin

WASHINGTON — In response to the president’s unprecedented attack on a company declining to do business with a family member, Nordstrom’s answered President Donald Trump’s accusation that it was treating Ivanka Trump unfairly. “To reiterate what we’ve already shared when asked, we made this decision based on performance,” the company said in a statement. “Over the past year, and particularly in the last half of 2016, sales of the brand have steadily declined to the point where it didn’t make good business sense for us to continue with the line for now.” In other words, customers are just not into Ivanka.

National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay, in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, gave a measured response. “What we are all seeing is that we’re living in a world with a different kind of chief executive in the White House,” he said. “It’s someone who communicates directly and forcefully and has a strong opinion on issues. We are learning, all of us, I think, how to work in that environment.”

That’s one way of putting it. Another is that the president and his aides are inviting corruption.

Had any federal employee, including a Cabinet official, done what Trump did, he or she would have run afoul of federal ethics regulations, specifically, Title 5, Section 2635.702:

“An employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity, including nonprofit organizations of which the employee is an officer or member, and persons with whom the employee has or seeks employment or business relations. . . . An employee shall not use or permit the use of his Government position or title or any authority associated with his public office in a manner that is intended to coerce or induce another person, including a subordinate, to provide any benefit, financial or otherwise, to himself or to friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”

This is garden-variety corruption, of the type we deplore in kleptocratic regimes around the country.

Likewise, if an American company consented to hire or do business with a foreign leader’s children in order to grease the skids for business dealings or avoid government retribution it would be a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. As the Financial Times reported recently:

“JPMorgan has agreed to pay $264m to settle a US probe into its practice of hiring well-connected Chinese ‘princelings’ to win business. . . .

“ ‘JPMorgan engaged in a systematic bribery scheme by hiring children of government officials and other favored referrals who were typically unqualified for the positions,’ said Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s enforcement division. ‘JPMorgan employees knew the firm was potentially violating the FCPA yet persisted with the improper hiring program because the business rewards and new deals were deemed too lucrative.’ “

The White House (falsely) keeps insisting the president cannot have conflicts of interest, neglecting the Constitutional prohibition on receipt of monies from foreign governments. Nevertheless, Congress can and should close the gap in ethics laws given that this president refuses to divest himself of businesses and insists on using the power of his office (during the transition and currently) to benefit his family finances. Perhaps we need a presidential anti-corruption act that would make Title 5, Section 2635.702 applicable to the president and vice president. In any event, both spokesman Sean Spicer’s derogatory comments (an attempt to “coerce”) and counselor Kellyanne Conway, who directly hawked Ivanka’s line (“I fully—I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”), seem to run afoul of existing ethics laws and should be held accountable.

There may be other legal avenues as well. Ethics guru Norman Eisen of the Brookings Institution this week tweeted that there is a cause of action under California’s Unfair Competition law forbidding “any unfair business act.” Eisen told me Thursday, “The law has long recognized that when someone makes untrue statements about a business, and those statements cause harm, a cause of action lies. As it happens, California, which has a lot of Nordstrom’s stores, has one of the most generous laws in the nation in allowing a business to respond when it is the victim of unfair treatment.” He adds, “Interestingly, that law also allows the California attorney general or other public officials to bring an action as well. Nordstrom’s says the president and Mr. Spicer’s statements were not correct. . . . [T]his was a business decision that was made because Ivanka’s line was not selling, that there was nothing unfair or political about it.” Conveniently, former Democratic congressman Xavier Becerra is now California’s state attorney general. Over to you, Mr. Becerra.

Letter: Reject EPA appointment

Yesterday we marveled at the record number of ducks and geese flying over our ponds celebrating the end of hunting season. Our family farm is also a small bird hunter’s club adjacent to the larger Buckeye Hunt Club in the beautiful Snake River Valley of Hagerman. Every year thousands of waterfowl and upland game birds such as ducks, geese, pheasants, quail and doves, along with other birds such as hawks, eagles, herons, blue jays, western tanagers and swans grace our farm. The health of our land, air and water is crucial to the health of our bird population and our livelihood.

Considering that Idaho doesn’t have the best record of environmental protection, we cannot afford to lose the EPA regulations that are currently in place.

“Scott Pruitt’s antipathy for holding polluters accountable in his own state is a bad sign for things to come across America if he’s given the reins at the EPA,” Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said. “The EPA’s job is to protect public health, not let industry off the hook for polluting our rivers and drinking water.”

Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council said that “over the past five years, Pruitt has used his position as Oklahoma’s top prosecutor to sue the EPA in a series of attempts to deny Americans the benefits of reducing mercury, arsenic, and other toxins from the air we breathe; cutting smog that can cause asthma attacks; and protecting our wetlands and streams.”

Whatever your political affiliation, if you have a passion for the sporting life, we urge you to call your state representatives to reject Scott Pruitt for head of the EPA. Sen. Mike Crapo: 208-734-2515; Sen. James Risch: 208-734-3905; Rep. Mike Simpson: 208-734- 7244.

Rita Gustafson


Our View: Get ready. Downtown Twin Falls is about to change

The city of Twin Falls is just a week away from launching the largest remake of downtown in generations. The $17.2 million project will rework underground infrastructure like water lines, but the much more visible component will be a new Main Avenue, with sprawling sidewalks and cosmetic improvements like new benches, trees and trash containers.

In a story in Sunday’s edition about the business and cultural diversification that’s already taking place downtown, reporter Heather Kennison described the heart of Twin Falls as “an emotional center for both the city’s nostalgia and its dreams.”

That’s a fitting observation. Many of the city’s oldest buildings are downtown, but so are its most promising new small businesses, many that evoke the millennial spirit the city is anxious to capture and grow.

It’s imperative these businesses continue to thrive, even as the road in front of their shops is jackhammered to smithereens. It may be a bit tougher these next few months to reach some of these shops, but the owners are counting on you for their business. We hope you’ll pardon the dust and continue to patronize your favorite downtown businesses.

The project will start Feb. 17 with the removal of trees. The big demo will come in March and continue, a block at a time from Fairfield to Jerome streets, through October, when the project is scheduled for completion. That’s also when the city plans to settle into its digs at the new downtown City Hall, in the remade Banner building. Across the street, the city plans a sprawling downtown commons area, a public space for residents to gather.

These next few months, the nostalgia for a downtown of yesteryear may begin to fade a bit as the dream about downtown’s future begins to take shape. We hope you’ll be a part of that future by continuing to shop downtown. The city can spend millions to make the area look better, but it will be for naught without the businesses that embody the heart of the city.