A high-level German politician is trying to land a meeting with Donald Trump through Trump’s business partners and was offered a face-to-face in January, according to German media reports. The episode highlights the concern that Trump’s vast business ties could impact his presidency and create conflicts of interest.
The politician in question, Horst Seehofer, heads the German state of Bavaria and is one of the most influential voices in Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition. The conservative has been a loud and frequent critic of Merkel’s refugee policies and reportedly has a tense relationship with the chancellor.
According to a Monday report in the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Seehofer is acquainted with Christian Hinneberg, whose family owns the land under Trump’s office building 40 Wall Street. Hinneberg offered to bring Seehofer along to a meeting with Trump at his namesake Fifth Avenue tower in January, the paper claims, but the politician had to decline the invitation due to conflicting obligations. Now Seehofer is reportedly launching a second attempt to peddle his connection to Hinneberg for a meeting with the U.S. president.
Sueddeutsche, which is well-sourced in the Bavarian capital of Munich, based the story on sources within Seehofer’s party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The paper claims the desired meeting has not yet been finalized. The influential news magazine Der Spiegel also reported over the weekend that Seehofer is working on landing a meeting with Trump, citing its own sources.
A tete-a-tete between Trump and Seehofer could be a significant geopolitical development: the U.S. president using informal channels to talk to a prominent Merkel critic who may be harboring ambitions to unseat her in the future could undermine the chancellor abroad.
And if such a meeting came about at the behest of Hinneberg, it would raise more questions over the kind of political access Trump’s business partners enjoy. Trump has so far resisted calls to divest himself from his real estate holdings, and government ethics watchdogs warn that his failure to do so could create conflicts of interest.
Trump’s opponent in last year’s election, Hillary Clinton, drew criticism on the campaign trail for meeting with Clinton Foundation donors while serving as Secretary of State. Trump used the reports to accuse Clinton of corruption, calling the foundation a “pay for play” scheme. “Nothing threatens the integrity of our democracy more than when government officials put their public office up for sale,” he said in a campaign speech in Pittsburgh in September.
Seehofer’s CSU is a junior partner in Germany’s governing coalition, along with Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats (SPD). Seehofer criticized Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s door to Syrian refugees in 2015 and is a skeptic of European integration – two stances that should endear him with Trump.
Hinneberg, a wealthy ship broker based in Hamburg, bought the land under 40 Wall Street in 1982 with his siblings and other partners. He and has been leasing the building to Trump since 1995. The brothers Christian and Walter Hinneberg are close to Trump and spent the holidays at Mar-a-Lago, as The Real Deal reported. On Jan. 4, Walter Hinneberg met the then-president-elect at Trump Tower – the meeting Seehofer was reportedly offered to join.
Hope Hicks, a spokesperson for Trump, did not respond to a request for comment.