Trump announced plans to ban foreign lobbying as part of first 100 days in office (AFP)
Donald Trump has called for a “lifetime ban” on former US government officials lobbying for foreign states, amid claims that his national security adviser has lobbied on behalf of Turkish businessmen with close ties to Ankara.
In a video address to announce his plans for his first 100 days in office, Trump said: “As part of our plan to drain the swamp…we will impose a lifetime ban on executive officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.”
The move followed his frequent calls during the election campaign to “drain the swamp” of Washington corruption and the influence of corporate lobbyists.
In the same video message, which was posted on social media, he called for executive officials to be banned from becoming lobbyists for five years after they leave government.
Flynn accused over Turkish links
But Trump’s attempt to break with the lobbying and revolving door culture of Washington have already been hit by allegations of foreign business and political links among his senior team.
Trump’s pick for national security adviser, Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, has been accused of lobbying on behalf of Turkish businessmen who have close ties with Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan.
Flynn, who once wrote that it was “rational” to fear Muslims, founded the Flynn Intel Group after leaving the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) in October 2014.
According to official documents, Flynn’s consultancy worked on behalf of Inovo BV, a Dutch firm owned by Turkish businessman Kamil Ekim Alptekin.
Alptekin is chair of the Turkish-American Business Council and helped organise Erdogan’s 2015 visit to Washington.
Flynn, who previously had the highest level of clearance while serving as the director of the DIA, was privy to huge volumes of intelligence but not allowed to share any of the information to outside parties.
Trump’s campaign dismissed any accusations of Flynn having a “conflict of interest” by saying that his career choice after he left the DIA was within his rights as a “private citizen.”
“After devoting his life to serving his country, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn became a private citizen and opened a private consulting business to advise companies on various issues. Gen. Flynn has said that he will sever ties to his consulting firm if he ever returned to government service and that is what he will do in the Trump administration,” a statement from the Trump team said.
Despite having close commercial ties to Turkey, Alptekin, speaking to Middle East Eye, denied having any links to the Turkish government and said: “I am not a member of the AKP and many of my company’s employees would not even vote for this government.”
Alptekin also told MEE: “I am not an extension of the Turkish government nor is my company. I don’t have any interests or business with the Turkish government.”
Flynn has denied any link to the Turkish president but recently wrote an op-ed in the Hill supportive of Erdogan and his calls to extradite the Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of masterminding a failed coup against Erdogan in July.
Warren hits out at Trump
Trump’s anti-corruption drive also came under attack from high-profile Democrat, Senator Elizabeth Warren, after it was revealed that his transition team was stacked with lobbyists, veteran Republican party officials and Washington insiders.
“What Donald Trump is doing is that he’s putting together a transition team that’s full of lobbyists – the kind of people he actually ran against,” Warren said in an interview with Business Insider.
Foreign lobbying has historically played a crucial role in securing interests for many Middle Eastern countries and transnational corporations in Washington.
Foreign interest lobbies were also prominent during the election cycle with every major presidential candidate except for Bernie Sanders addressing the annual American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference.
Senior lobbyists contacted by Middle East Eye were unwilling to speak on the issue because of the “current instability posed by the Trump presidency,” according to one.
Farage windfarm plea
Trump has also come under the spotlight after he used his meetings with the UK politician Nigel Farage to encourage him to oppose offshore windfarms, according to the UK’s Daily Express. Trump has said that the windfarms are a blight on the landscape of his two Scottish golf courses, raising concerns about whether the president-elect will exploit the presidency for his business interests.
Trump has previously challenged plans to build a wind farm near one of his golf courses in Aberdeenshire, fighting all the way to the UK Supreme Court to block the renewable energy source. He eventually lost the legal bid.
In an attempt to demonstrate Trump’s commitment to reform in Washington, Vice President-elect Mike Pence fired all the lobbyists recruited to be part of the team, in his first act as head of Trump’s transition team immediately after the election.
Lobbyists who were rumoured to be part of Trump’s original transition team and picks for secretary of the Treasury included Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs employee and hedge fund manager, and Jason Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan.