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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.

ImageQatar 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

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