Op-Ed Columnist: Did China Just Bribe Trump to Undermine National Security?


That investment, by the way, is part of the Belt and Road project, a multinational infrastructure initiative China is using to reinforce its economic centrality — and geopolitical influence — across Eurasia. Meanwhile, whatever happened to that Trump infrastructure plan?

Back to ZTE: Was there a quid pro quo? We may never know. But this wasn’t the first time the Trump administration made a peculiar foreign policy move that seems associated with Trump family business interests. Last year the administration, bizarrely, backed a Saudi blockade of Qatar, a Middle Eastern nation that also happens to be the site of a major U.S. military base. Why? Well, the move came shortly after the Qataris refused to invest $500 million in 666 Fifth Avenue, a troubled property owned by the family of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.

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Qatar may be about to make a deal on 666 Fifth Avenue, a troubled property owned by the family of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

And now it looks as if Qatar may be about to make a deal on 666 Fifth Avenue after all. I wonder why?

Step back from the details and consider the general picture. High officials have the power to reward or punish both businesses and other governments, so that undue influence is always a problem, even if it takes the form of campaign contributions or indirect financial rewards via the revolving door.

But the problem becomes vastly worse if interested parties can simply funnel money to officials through their business holdings — and Trump and his family, by failing to divest from their international business dealings, have basically hung a sign out declaring themselves open to bribery (and also set the standard for the rest of the administration).

And the problem of undue influence is especially severe when it comes to authoritarian foreign governments. Democracies have ethical rules of their own: Justin Trudeau would be in big trouble if Canada were caught funneling money to the Trump Organization. Corporations can be shamed or sued. But if Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin make payoffs to U.S. politicians, who’s going to stop them?

The main answer is supposed to be congressional oversight, which used to mean something. If there had been even a whiff of foreign payoffs to, say, Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter, there would have been bipartisan demands for an investigation — and a high likelihood of impeachment.

But today’s Republicans have made it clear that they won’t hold Trump accountable for anything, even if it borders on treason.

All of which is to say that Trump’s corruption is only a symptom of a bigger problem: a G.O.P. that will do anything, even betray the nation, in its pursuit of partisan advantage.

Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s Ousted President, Gets 24 Years in Prison


Following weeks of huge demonstrations calling for her ouster, the National Assembly impeached Ms. Park in December 2016 on charges of bribery and abuse of presidential power. In March of last year, the Constitutional Court upheld the assembly’s decision, making Ms. Park the first South Korean leader to be removed from office through parliamentary impeachment. She was arrested three weeks later.

At the center of the scandal that toppled Ms. Park’s government is the allegation that she and Choi Soon-sil, a longtime friend and confidant, collected or demanded large bribes from three big businesses, including Samsung, the country’s largest family-controlled conglomerate. Separately, the two women were accused of coercing 18 businesses into making donations worth $72 million to two foundations that Ms. Choi controlled.

The same court panel that handled Ms. Park’s case called her and Ms. Choi criminal co-conspirators when it sentenced Ms. Choi to 20 years in prison on Feb. 13 on bribery, extortion and other criminal charges.

Ms. Park has tearfully apologized to the public, cutting ties with Ms. Choi and insisting that she was not aware of many of her friend’s illegal activities. Her lawyers also appealed for leniency, arguing that the money collected from big businesses was not used for her personal gain. Some of the alleged bribes taken from Samsung were used to finance the equestrian pursuits of Ms. Choi’s daughter.

In Friday’s verdict, Ms. Park was convicted of collecting or demanding nearly $22 million in bribes from three of South Korea’s top business conglomerates, including Samsung, Lotte and SK. Separately, she was found guilty of coercing the three companies — and 15 other businesses — into making donations worth $72 million to two foundations controlled by Ms. Choi.

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Ms. Park in court in August. She has refused to attend hearings in her case since October.

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Pool photo by Kim Hong-Ji

The former president was also found guilty of abusing her power to help Ms. Choi and her associates win lucrative business contracts from big businesses, and of blacklisting artists, writers and movie directors deemed unfriendly to her government, excluding them from state support programs.

”The accused caused chaos in state affairs by abusing the power given to her by the people, and it is necessary to hold her responsible with a stern punishment so that similar things will not happen again,” the presiding judge, Kim Se-yoon, said in the nationally televised sentencing.

Ms. Park’s removal from office — she was replaced as president by the liberal politician Moon Jae-in — represented a huge setback for her once-dominant conservative party. Locked away in jail, she has slowly receded from public discourse. Older conservatives who represent her most ardent supporters are deeply mistrustful of Mr. Moon, a progressive whom they regard as pro-North Korean, but who now enjoys public approval ratings hovering around 70 percent.

Ms. Park’s scandal rekindled longstanding public anger over the extensive ties between the government and family-run conglomerates known as chaebol. The case also led to the arrest of Lee Jae-yong, the de facto head of Samsung.

Last August, Mr. Lee, the vice chairman of the smartphone-maker Samsung Electronics and the third-generation scion of the family that runs the Samsung conglomerate, was sentenced to five years in prison for offering $6.7 million in bribes to Ms. Choi and Ms. Park. He was released from prison in February after an appeals court reduced his sentence, but rulings by the judges on Friday could place him in new legal jeopardy.

The new president, Mr. Moon, has vowed to root out corrupt relationships between politicians and businesses that were at the center of the scandal.

Friday’s sentencing marked an ignominious end to Ms. Park’s career. A daughter of the former military dictator Park Chung-hee, she grew up in South Korea’s presidential Blue House and essentially served as her father’s first lady after her mother was assassinated by a pro-North Korean gunman in 1974. Her father’s 18-year dictatorship ended with his own assassination by his spy chief in 1979. Never married and childless, Ms. Park lived a reclusive life afterward.

Her fortunes changed amid the Asian financial crisis of 1998, when South Koreans, hankering for her father’s charismatic leadership, elected her to the National Assembly. She became a political boss and a conservative icon.

But as president, Ms. Park was accused of being disconnected from the public and of mishandling the aftermath of a 2014 ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people, mostly teenagers. In 2016, the news media began reporting allegations of influence-peddling, igniting the scandal that consumed Ms. Park’s administration and sent huge crowds of demonstrators into the streets of Seoul every weekend for months on end.

Almost all of South Korea’s presidents have seen their reputations tarnished toward the end of their tenure or during their retirement because of corruption scandals involving them, their relatives or aides.

A spokesman for the current president, Mr. Moon, called Friday’s developments “heartbreaking.” Jun Hee-kyung, a spokeswoman for Ms. Park’s old conservative party, Liberty Korea, criticized the decision to broadcast the sentencing hearing, likening it to “a sports event.”

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