One positive aspect to emerge from all the chaos of the nascent presidency of Donald Trump is the daily civics lessons.
Today, we the patriotic progressive American electorate, add another word to our ever-growing common political lexicon: “emolument.”
Article 1, Section 9 of the United States Constitution states:
“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.”
This is an anti-corruption provision conceived to prevent a president of the United States from creating a conflict of interest through dealings with a foreign government that could be construed as a bribe. It has never been tested against any president.
District of Columbia attorney Karl A. Racine (D) and Maryland attorney general Brian E. Frosh (D) filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump Monday stating the president violated the Constitution’s emolument’s clause through his continual acceptance of millions of dollars in payments and benefits from foreign governments since taking office.
The lawsuit cites the fact that Trump retains ownership of his company when he became president despite insisting in January he was transferring business assets to a blind trust his sons Eric and Donald Jr. would manage to avoid potential conflicts of interests.
Eric Trump has confirmed the president will continue to receive regular updates about his company’s finances.
The lawsuit argues:
“[Trump’s continued ownership of a global business empire has rendered the president] deeply enmeshed with a legion of foreign and domestic government actors…Fundamental to a President’s fidelity to [faithfully execute his oath of office] is the Constitution’s demand that the President … disentangle his private finances from those of domestic and foreign powers. Never before has a President acted with such disregard for this constitutional prescription.”
Racine and Frosh say if a federal judge allows the case to proceed, one of the first steps will be to demand copies of Trump’s personal tax returns. This would be accomplished through the discovery process to determine Trump’s foreign business dealings, and would most likely land before the Supreme Court where Trump’s attorneys would be required to defend their reasons the returns should remain private.
“This case is, at its core, about the right of Marylanders, residents of the District of Columbia and all Americans to have honest government…we’ll need to see his financial records, his taxes that he has refused to release.”
“We’re getting in here to be the check and balance that it appears Congress is unwilling to be.”
This suit is not the first pertaining to emoluments violations lodged against Trump.
The first came from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a D.C.-based watchdog group, in January. A D.C. restaurant followed suit in March, alleging the new D.C. Trump International Hotel benefits from unfair advantages. Last week, a group of congressional Democrats said they plan to soon file suit.
The Trump administration’s counterargument cites precedent going all the way back to George Washington selling farm produce to insist payments for Trump’s real estate companies, hotels, and golf courses fail to constitute emoluments as the Constitution defines.
Attorneys Racine and Frosh, however, argue Trump’s violations are indeed unprecedented, and cite adverse harm D.C. and Maryland are suffering from the Trump hotel’s vicinity to the White House. The hotel may be luring business away from the taxpayer-funded D.C. convention center and a convention center in Maryland, also taxpayer subsidized.
Since Trump’s inauguration, representatives from Saudi Arabia have booked rooms there through an intermediary. The Kuwaiti embassy has also held events there. Turkey held a state-sponsored event there last month. In April, the Georgian ambassador stayed there and tweeted his satisfaction with it. Trump has also repeatedly appeared at the hotel to greeted guests.
Norman Eisen, former President Barack Obama’s chief White House ethics lawyer and CREW board chairman, said:
“In the emoluments clauses, we have these ancient air bags that were placed in the Constitution by the framers that are now being deployed. Trump is the framers’ worst-case scenario: a president who would seize office and attempt to exploit his position for personal financial gain with every governmental entity imaginable, across the United States or around the world.”
This is more than just the case of a president benefiting financially from his presidency, though. Racine and Frosh caution that unless we hold Trump accountable for the emoluments provision, Americans will never be able to trust the president is acting in their best interest politically and diplomatically. Recent decisions concerning Trump’s travel ban, ill-advised withdrawal from the Paris climate deal, and proposed tax cuts, raise eyebrows over Trump’s motives.
Watch this video for more information (after the jump):
Featured Image By Liberal Resistance Via Twitter.