Corruption, Thy Name is ‘Trump’

Both President Trump and Ivanka Trump are profiting handsomely from their time in the White House.

Two related reports point to the inherent conflicts of interest of owning businesses while serving in senior government positions.

NYT (“Judge in Emoluments Case Questions Defense of Trump’s Hotel Profits“):

A federal judge on Monday sharply criticized the Justice Department’s argument that President Trump’s financial interest in his company’s hotel in downtown Washington is constitutional, a fresh sign that the judge may soon rule against the president in a historic case that could head to the Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland, charge that Mr. Trump’s profits from the hotel violate anti-corruption clauses of the Constitution that restrict government-bestowed financial benefits, or emoluments, to presidents beyond their official salary. They say the hotel is siphoning business from local convention centers and hotels.

The judge, Peter J. Messitte of the United States District Court in Maryland, promised to decide by the end of July whether to allow the plaintiffs to proceed to the next stage, in which they could demand financial records from the hotel or other evidence from the president. The case takes aim at whether Mr. Trump violated the Constitution’s emoluments clauses, which prevent a president from accepting government-bestowed benefits either at home or abroad. Until now, the issue of what constitutes an illegal emolument has never been litigated.

Attorneys general for the District of Columbia and Maryland say that by allowing foreign officials to patronize the five-star Trump International Hotel blocks from the White House, Mr. Trump is violating the Constitution’s ban on payments from foreign governments to federal officeholders. They also claim the president is violating a related clause that restricts compensation, other than his salary, from the federal government or from state governments.

WaPo (“Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump made at least $82 million in outside income last year while serving in the White House, filings show“):

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law, brought in at least $82 million in outside income while serving as senior White House advisers during 2017, according to financial disclosure forms released Monday.

Trump earned $3.9 million from her stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington and more than $2 million in severance from the Trump Organization, while Kushner reported over $5 million in income from Quail Ridge, a Kushner Cos. apartment complex acquired last year in Plainsboro, N.J.

The filings show how the couple are collecting immense sums from other enterprises while serving in the White House, an extraordinary income flow that ethics experts have warned could create potential conflicts of interests.

Both Kushner and Trump have given up daily oversight of their companies as they work as unpaid senior advisers to the president.

But while Kushner divested some holdings, he and his wife have maintained large stakes in businesses with domestic and foreign ties. Kushner’s family real estate company has properties around the country, including thousands of apartment units in states including New Jersey and Maryland. Trump’s eponymous clothing and accessories line is produced exclusively in foreign factories in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and China.

That President Trump is in violation of the Emoluments Clause would seem obvious. Aside from Trump International Hotel, there’s also Mar-a-Lago as the “Southern White House” and all manner of other businesses which directly benefit from its association with the President. (There’s also the issue that the terms of the lease of the Old Post Office, in which the hotel is located, specifically preclude it being occupied by an elected official—which the President’s people have conveniently ruled isn’t the case.) It’s corruption, plain and simple.

Jared and Ivanka have gone a little further in giving the illusion of divestiture but that, too, is obviously a sham. Like her father, Ivanka’s main business is putting her name on things; the lack of day-to-day oversight, even if it’s real, doesn’t change much. Even if her getting massive trademark concessions in China while her father is granting favors to Chinese companies engaged in espionage against the United States is purely coincidental, it certainly raises eyebrows.

Alas, since he controls the Executive machinery and since Congressional Republicans seem not to care, little will be done about any of this from the criminal or impeachment side. If the judge allows the emoluments lawsuits to go forward, though, there may be some modest remedy on the civil side.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. An Interested Party says:

    Alas, since he controls the Executive machinery and since Congressional Republicans seem not to care, little will be done about any of this from the criminal or impeachment side.

    If the Democrats manage to take the House in the fall, there will certainly be a lot of investigations that will no doubt dig up all kinds of juicy information…of course, anything damaging to the Orange Toddler will automatically be dismissed as fake news by his cultists and weak, scared Republicans…

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  2. The Emoluments Clause issues are interesting, but I’m not sure what it will amount to. The Constitution does not set forth any penalty for violating these provisions and I’m not aware of any provision of Federal law that does either.

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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I am shocked, shocked I tell you.

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Forced divestiture seems obvious. That could be punishment enough.

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  5. MBunge says:

    To paraphrase Inigo Montoya…you keep using this word corruption. I do not think it means what you think it means. Corruption requires some actual act of the part of the supposedly corrupt. You don’t yet have that is this case. You know you don’t have that yet in this case.

    But if this sort of character assassination is what you need to soothe your butt hurt over Donald Trump proving he understands politics better than you, knock yourself out.

    I do wonder if maybe it might be slightly more appropriate to worry less about the success of an actual billionaire businessman who goes into politics and more about how almost all of our major elected officials mysteriously wind up fabulously wealthy by the end of their political careers.

    Oh, and you might want to check with Josh Marshall. I’m not sure your somewhat disingenuous “Trump is getting richer!” can coexist with his deranged “Trump isn’t really rich!”

    Mike

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  6. grumpy realist says:

    @MBunge: Dearie, I suggest you stay away from commenting on law-related issues. It’s very obvious you don’t understand (or worse, don’t care to understand) what’s going on.

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  7. @OzarkHillbilly:

    But what provision of the law gives a Court the authorize to order such divesture?

    I don’t see it.

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  8. CSK says:

    @MBunge:

    Trump ran to improve his brand, which was fading fast. It succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. There’s really no conflict between what Josh Marshall is saying and the current uptick in the contents of the Trump family coffers.

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  9. Ben Wolf says:

    @MBunge: By any reasonable definition of corruption, Trump is benefiting from corruption. It does not require a quid pro quo to use the power with which one is entrusted to benefit one’s self. And Trump is very open about this. That’s why he stops at his commercial properties for photo opportunities. That’s why the Kushner family is selling visas in Beijing That’s why the Kushner family is accepting huge loans from businesses owned by foreign governments.

    You routinely attack Democrats and liberals for hypocrisy but you’re no different. Moral courage means setting the same standard for everyone.

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  10. wr says:

    @MBunge: “I do not think it means what you think it means. Corruption requires some actual act of the part of the supposedly corrupt. You don’t yet have that is this case. You know you don’t have that yet in this case.”

    1) Jared Kushner asks the government of Qatar, a friend where we have military bases, for a billion dollar “investment” to prop up his business, which is careening towards bankruptcy.

    2) Qatar refuses.

    3) US government backs Saudi military actions against Qatar and claims with no evidence they are major backer of terrorism.

    4) Qatar steers a billion dollars to Kushner’s organization, saving his ass.

    5) US and Qatar are friends again.

    But there’s no corruption there! There can’t be, because Jared is a Republican and he’s white, so everything he does is good.

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  11. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    You guys all know Bunge doesn’t have the balls to hang around and defend his nonsense.

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  12. Franklin says:

    @MBunge:

    I’m not sure your somewhat disingenuous “Trump is getting richer!” can coexist with his deranged “Trump isn’t really rich!”

    Not to feed the troll, but this is a hilarious failure of logic on your part. Do you not think people with little money cannot obtain more money?

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  13. dmichael says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Why isn’t violating a provision (or provisions) of the U.S. Constitution grounds for impeachment? Or, are you saying that the Trump crime family make continue to make money off of their positions in the government until some judge says that someone has standing to challenge it in court?

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  14. Kathy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Why are you shocked? Banana republics tend to be corrupt from the top down.

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  15. @dmichael:

    Anything can be a ground for impeachment if a majority of the House of Representatives says so.

    The question, though, is what remedy the courts considering the two Emoluments Clause cases that have been filed — which I’ve written about here and here — could prescribe. Since there doesn’t seem to be any “penalty” under either the Constitution or Federal law, it would appear that the most a court can do here is issue what would essentially be a Declaratory Judgment finding a violation of the relevant portion of the Constitution.

    What happens after that? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

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  16. An Interested Party says:

    But if this sort of character assassination is what you need to soothe your butt hurt over Donald Trump proving he understands politics better than you, knock yourself out.

    Good grief, don’t you ever get embarrassed? Keep slobbering on that knob, fluffer…

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  17. Gustopher says:

    @Doug Mataconis: couldn’t they then issue a court order requiring him to stop doing that? And then hold him in contempt of court?

    It’s small potatoes, but it’s not nothing. Just really close to nothing.

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  18. @Gustopher:

    Maybe, maybe not. It’s entirely unclear. These clauses of the Constitution have never really been dealt with in Court before.

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