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President Trump, Inc., a Lawful Business?

June 19, 2017
Plain English Version

Demonstrators in front of Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

An emolument is a gift. The U.S. Constitution says:

                         “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.”

The clause is there to keep foreign powers from trying to influence leaders in the U.S. But of course, American presidents give and get gifts of all kinds. It is part of diplomacy. The gifts do not violate the emolument clause because presidents report the gifts. The gifts do not enrich the president.

Donald Trump is different. He owns businesses that stand to make money from foreign governments. For example, he owns a hotel in Washington, D.C. Foreign governments can book the hotel for their events. Trump can make a profit from those bookings. Trump said he would give all profits to the United States Treasury. That may, or may not, work.

A group of Democrats in Congress have brought a lawsuit. They say the president is violating the emolument clause. They say they have standing to bring the suit because Congress enforces the law.

Two governments are also filing a lawsuit. They say the emoluments clause does apply to President Trump. They are Washington, D.C. and the state of Maryland. Some experts say these governments have strong standing to bring the case. Maryland State is a “coequal sovereign” with the federal government.

They say that Trump businesses cost their governments revenue. They are bringing a lawsuit to enforce the emolument clause. example. The Trump Hotel in Washington takes business away from a convention center owned by D.C. Also, critics say

An example. The Trump Hotel in Washington takes business away from a convention center owned by D.C. Also, critics say foreign governments may use his hotels to curry favor. States may feel they have to be helpful to the president’s interests.

A lawyer on the case commented. He said people should know if the president is making money from foreign governments.

What does it mean if the lawsuit plaintiffs are successful? That outcome is a long way off, and nobody knows for sure what it will be. Will Trump have to sell his properties or face impeachment?

The interests of the groups in this lawsuit are short range. They want to know about Trump’s business interests. They want to know if he withheld facts when he refused to make his tax returns public.

A law professor said, “All they really need is for a court to say Donald Trump needs to release his records to you. That would be one heck of a victory for them.”

Source: The New York Times June 12, 2017, June 14, 2017

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