When it comes to the Donald Trump nonstop news cycle, it is often hard to keep up.
A Trump tweet letting the world know he canceled a meeting with the New York Times becomes news. Just as cable TV and social media spent most of last weekend obsessing about Trump's inane tweets about Mike Pence's getting booed at the Broadway musical Hamilton and complaining about his portrayal on Saturday Night Live.
Very presidential. But it helped Trump distract from two real stories that say more about him as a businessman and president-elect.
With a trial looming, Trump paid $25 million to settle a fraud case involving more than 6,000 people in more than 20 states who alleged they were ripped off by his defunct real estate seminar program known as Trump University.
The settlement barely caused a ripple. Just imagine if Hillary Clinton won the election and then paid millions to settle a fraud case. Same goes for the many conflicts of interest that make it hard to determine where Trump's business interests end and America's interests begin.
Trump's real estate, management, and branding empire extends to more than a dozen countries. His campaign disclosure form listed more than 500 business entities. It is impossible to know all of Trump's dealings, since his company is private and he refused to release his tax returns.
But it is easy to see how a country could try to influence President Trump by giving millions to the Trump Organization or jamming up a development deal.
Trump has said he plans to put his company in a blind trust, but his three children will still run the business. That makes no sense, since a blind trust contains assets unknown to the beneficiary. If anything, the lines have become murkier, since Trump's kids are on his transition committee and are attending meetings with foreign officials.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri spoke with Trump's daughter Ivanka during a call to congratulate him on winning the election. Ivanka is the vice president for development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization.
An Argentine development firm plans to build a $100 million office tower in downtown Buenos Aires emblazoned with Trump's name. One Argentine media outlet said Trump asked President Macri for help on the project. A spokesman for Macri denied the report.
Ivanka also attended Trump's first postelection meeting with a foreign head of state. Trump, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan were photographed seated together on a white sofa under a large crystal chandelier inside the marble and gold, Louis XIV-style residence on the 58th floor of Trump Tower. Ivanka, who does not have a security clearance, sat in on the meeting.
Norman Eisen, a former ethics adviser to President Obama, likened the meeting to "something out of a tin-pot oligarchy."
It gets better. In a recent meeting with British politician Nigel Farage, Trump encouraged him to oppose the type of offshore wind farms that he has said will impede the view from one of his Scottish golf courses. Such a populist.
Trump also met with three Indian business partners who are building a luxury apartment complex in Mumbai branded with Trump's name. A photo posted on Twitter showed the three men with Trump smiling and giving thumbs up. Write your own photo caption.
Trump has similar development deals where he gets millions in annual fees in return for putting his name on a luxury building in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, the Philippines, and Turkey. The state-owned Bank of China is one of the lenders on a $950 million office building Trump partly owns in Manhattan. What could go wrong when doing business with those countries?
Shortly after launching his campaign, Trump registered eight companies that reportedly appear to be tied to hotel interests in Saudi Arabia. Remember when Trump criticized Clinton for money Saudi Arabia donated to the Clinton Foundation? Only nasty men can do business with the Saudis.
Trump's conflicts are not just overseas. He recently opened a luxury hotel in Washington. After the election, the hotel reportedly reached out to local embassies to urge foreign leaders to stay there when they visit. How cheesy.
Presidents are largely exempt from conflict-of-interest rules. Indeed, that's Trump's defense. In a meeting with the Times on Tuesday, he said: "The law's totally on my side, the president can't have a conflict of interest."
Echoes of President Richard M. Nixon's radical interpretation of democracy when he said, "When the president does it, that means that it's not illegal."
But an obscure provision in the Constitution known as the Emoluments Clause could cause Trump trouble if he continues to benefit from deals with foreign governments. It will be up to the Republican-controlled Congress to play watchdog. Good luck with that.
Even the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page said Trump should liquidate his businesses to avoid conflicts: "Mixing money and politics could undermine his pledge to 'drain the swamp' in Washington."
One problem. The swamp is about to be overtaken by a hydra-headed monster.
Paul Davies is the deputy editor of the Inquirer Editorial Board. email@example.com