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GOP assumptions about Trump's conflicts of interest put to the test

Ivanka Trump was finalizing a Japanese business deal, with a bank owned by the Japanese government. Then she joined a meeting with the Japanese prime minister.
Ivanka Trump, right, listens as her father Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a policy speech on child care, Sept. 13, 2016, in Aston, Pa. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)
Ivanka Trump, right, listens as her father Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a policy speech on child care, Sept. 13, 2016, in Aston, Pa. 
The list of Donald Trump's conflict-of-interest controversies is painfully long, and there are all kinds of relevant questions that need answers. For example, when the president-elect met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, why in the world did the meeting include Ivanka Trump?The president-elect's daughter, after all, will soon help oversee her father's business empire, and to avoid improprieties, she's supposed to have no official governmental role. So what explains her participation in the post-election meeting between Trump and Abe? A New York Times report published yesterday adds some key details:

When Donald J. Trump hosted a foreign leader for the first time as president-elect, the guest list included a curious entry: Mr. Trump's daughter Ivanka, who looked on last month while he and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan chatted on a white couch high above Manhattan.Some 6,700 miles from Trump Tower, in Tokyo, another exclusive gathering was already underway: a two-day private viewing of Ivanka Trump products, teeming with Trump-branded treasures like a sample of the pale pink dress Ms. Trump wore to introduce her father at the Republican National Convention.Ms. Trump is nearing a licensing deal with the Japanese apparel giant Sanei International, both parties told The New York Times. The largest shareholder of Sanei's parent company is the Development Bank of Japan, which is wholly owned by the Japanese government.

These are exactly the kind of conflicts a responsible leader is supposed to avoid. Ivanka Trump was finalizing a Japanese business deal, with a bank owned by the Japanese government, and neither she nor her father saw anything wrong with her participating in a meeting with the Japanese prime minister -- for no reason that has anything to do with U.S. interests.As Rachel noted on the show a couple of weeks ago, Trump simply does not appear to care about the blatant appearance that he's using the presidency as a means of making him and his family even richer: "These are the types of things we assume a president or a president-elect would hide, and eventually some intrepid journalist would uncover them and win a Pulitzer Prize. But in this case, no Pulitzer. Donald Trump is not hiding this. Everybody gets to report it. He is doing all of this stuff in plain sight."Congressional Republicans are aware the problems, of course, but they're prepared to look the other way. Politico reports that GOP officials are willing to bet Americans just don't care.

Republicans see the same ethically challenged complications lurking in Donald Trump's business portfolio that Democrats are squawking about. They just think Americans don't care about these entanglements anymore.Indeed, the GOP is so easily dismissing Democratic threats of investigations and ethicists' calls for divestment out of a belief that the political landscape has shifted. Voters rewarded Trump in part on the idea that success in business will equal success in government, and Republicans are therefore unwilling to encourage the president-elect to put distance between the Oval Office and Trump Tower, or between himself and the children who serve him as trusted advisers.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Politico, "The American people knowingly voted for a businessman whose name is inextricably tied to his fortune.... I'd say to the left wing, 'Get over it.'"It's probably worth noting for the record, in case Gingrich has forgotten, that when "the American people" voted, Trump came in second.While we're at it, Gingrich was forced to resign in disgrace in the wake of his own ... wait for it ... ethics scandal in the late 1990s. So if Republicans are looking for guidance on how best to deal with an ethical dilemma, the party would probably be wise to look elsewhere.That said, it's entirely possible Gingrich is correct about public attitudes. Maybe Trump can use the presidency to line his pockets in ways unseen in American history and the electorate will respond with a shrug of its collective shoulders. Perhaps Americans, en masse, can be convinced that email server management was the single most important issue in the nation in 2016, but the Trump White House using its power to enrich Trump and his family is boring and meaningless.But when an unpopular president publicly toys with corruption, Republicans should probably pause to appreciate the scope of the risk they're taking by tolerating -- and in some ways, encouraging -- alleged presidential wrongdoing.