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Rep. Elijah Cummings Leads Call To Investigate Trump's Business Entanglements

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Donald Trump's business entanglements have already raised questions that will likely follow him into the White House. One of his business partners in the Philippines was just named special envoy to the U.S. And as we'll hear elsewhere in the show, Trump leases a government building for his new hotel here in Washington. Now Democrats plan to keep an eye out for potential conflicts of interest. And Maryland congressman Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat at the House Oversight Committee, is among those leading that call. Congressman Cummings, welcome to the program.

ELIJAH CUMMINGS: I'm glad to be with you.

CORNISH: The president is exempt from federal conflict-of-interest laws that apply to most federal employees. So what do you see as being the specific danger you want House Oversight to look into?

CUMMINGS: Well, first of all, let's keep in mind that, although he may be exempt from certain conflict-of-interest laws, there's one provision that does apply to him. That's the Emoluments. And that is he cannot accept gifts from foreign governments. We know that he has 111 companies operating in 18 countries. A lot of them need the government.

A lot of these businesses need the government of those countries to operate. And they need green lights on various things. They also have various financial entanglements. So we just see a minefield here of conflicts. That is the president with unprecedented business relationships. There's nothing wrong with that. But now he's the president of the United States. And the American people have a right to know that, when he's making decisions, they are being made in their best interests without him lining his pockets.

CORNISH: Now, Donald Trump has said his children will take over his business - that he may set up a blind trust for his business dealings. Is that enough to your mind?

CUMMINGS: No. And it's not only enough - not enough - in my mind. It's not enough for people like Richard Painter, who was the former ethics counsel under George Bush. Clearly, you know, the children are part of the transition team. They are making decisions with Donald Trump every day, sitting in on meetings. And these are the same children who he has asked to run his business.

A lot of people are caught up in - and Donald Trump seems to be caught up in whether something is violative of the law. Well, it's not just the law. It's the appearance of a conflict. And so, again, we want to restore - we want to make sure that people have confidence in their government, confidence in their elected officials.

CORNISH: With Democrats being the minority power in Congress, you don't have control in either chamber, the committee chairmanships. You don't have the ability to launch investigations or issue subpoenas. So how do you do any kind of investigation without Republican support?

CUMMINGS: I think it's going to be very difficult. But the one thing that we do have is the public. The more the public learns about this - they understand that it's not a Republican or Democratic problem. It's an American problem. And people want transparency in government.

So asking the proper questions, asking for hearings, outside groups coming to bear members of the Republican Party like Lindsey Graham - he's also called for investigations. We're going to have to use a number of things. But one of the things that I do believe is that our democracy is on trial here.

And I think that we have to stand up to these kind of issues when we have Donald Trump saying that the law does not apply to him or that, because he is president, he doesn't have to worry about these things. I believe that that is a problem.

CORNISH: What response have you gotten from the head of the House Oversight Committee, Jason Chaffetz?

CUMMINGS: We've got no response to date. And we're hoping that we'll get a response very soon.

CORNISH: Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, thank you so much for speaking with us.

CUMMINGS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.