After Donald Trump won the election, he was relieved to learn that there was no “United States law” that prohibited him from continuing to own his vast real estate empire. He certainly was informed that all former presidents in modern times had divested themselves of their business and financial assets, creating blind trusts. However, Trump declared he would not follow the “blind trust” route with his huge holdings around the globe that carried his name. Instead, he would turn over all business transactions to his two sons, Eric and Donald Jr., but retain ownership. Since all members of the family are in contact in Trump Tower in New York City, this arrangement was viewed very skeptically by legal authorities as well as public critics. Nevertheless, it was set up and has been in effect since January 20, when he was inaugurated as president.
Trump and his advisers had been informed that Article 1, Section 9 of the United States Constitution known as “The Emoluments Clause” did spell out conditions that applied to his business holdings. This significant clause restricts members of the government from receiving “gifts, emoluments, office or titles from foreign states without the consent of Congress.” The motive of the framers in l787 was clearly spelled out by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper 22. They did not want foreign influence and enrichment to corrupt the elected officials in their young republic. Although the republic is more than two centuries beyond l787, the clause is still valid. It applies to ALL elected officials, including the president.
Trump and his lawyers have chosen to ignore The Emoluments Clause” as his hotels, golf courses and businesses across the world have brought in millions of dollars since he took office. His first hundred days have been focused on power struggles amid top staff in the White House, signing Executive Orders, and failures of two Muslim Travel Bans and the Repeal & Replacement of Obamacare. However, there has been press coverage of Eric and Donald Jr. opening The Trump International Golf Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and the Trump hotel and condo project in Vancouver, British Columbia in February, 2017. From their cramped offices in Trump Tower, the sons keep expanding the Trump empire, and the revenue continues to flow in from other countries.
At home, The Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. opened in September, 2016. Since then, foreign leaders who visit the White House stay there, blocks away from their meetings with the president. Eric summed it up when he said, “I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.” It should be noted that Ivanka Trump now has an office, as does her husband Jared Kushner, in the West Wing as “assistant” and “senior adviser” respectively. She has set up a “blind trust “ for her successful retail businesses, but also continues to build new contracts in foreign lands. When she met with President Xi of China at Mar-a-Lago in early April, she came away with three new trade mark brands in China for jewelry, handbags, and spa services.
On January 23, it was reported in the New York Times that “a team of prominent constitutional scholars, Supreme Court litigators, and former White House ethics lawyers intends to file a law suit alleging that President Trump is violating The Constitution by allowing his hotels and other business operations to accept payments from foreign governments.” The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The legal team includes: Deepak Gupta, Supreme Court litigator; Laurence Tribe, Harvard constitutional scholar; Richard Painter, ethics counselor for president George W. Bush; Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school, University of California, Irvine. Gupta said of the case, “The framers of the Constitution were students of history. They understood that one way a republic could fail was if foreign powers could corrupt our leaders.” The suit will ask a federal court in New York to order Trump to stop taking payments from foreign government entities. The suit says such payments includes those from patrons at Trump hotels and golf courses as well as loans for his office buildings from certain banks controlled by foreign governments, and leases with tenants like Abu Dhabi tourist office, a government enterprise.. The suit will not seek monetary damages.
The next day, the Justice Department announced it would defend the president in a lawsuit over The Emoluments Clause. The lawsuit was assigned to Judge Ronnie Abrams, appointed by President Obama. Judge Abrams must decide first if the group that brought the suit, the plaintiff, has “standing”. That translates into having suffered enough injury. Progress on this important lawsuit has not been made public.
However, on April 19, it was reported that The Office of Government Ethics had received 39,105 public complaints and queries about the Trump administration ethics over the past six months. During the same six months after Barack Obama was elected in 2009, there were 733 complaints and queries. The American people watch daily television and read newspaper articles about the Trump family businesses around the world. Thousands of women and men marched on April 15 in cities and towns across the country to demand the release of his tax returns. Walter Shaub Jr., chief of the ethics office says he and his team have been working hard to rein in “financial disclosures of administration appointees.” Trump likes to boast that his cabinet has the “highest IQ’s ever. Perhaps. What is known is that there are more millionaires and billionaires in his cabinet than ever before.
Epilogue: Donald J. Trump continues to own and profit from his world-wide business holdings. He has visited Mar-a-Lago seven weekends to play golf, conduct foreign policy with world leaders, and meet members who pay $200,000 to join and have a chance to meet the president of the United States. Alexander Hamilton –who warned that the republic could be corrupted by foreign influence — would be dismayed by a president who mixes personal business profits with governing, and his oath of office to protect The Constitution.
Joyce S. Anderson