Donald Trump and his continued rejection of demands to put his businesses in a blind trust and to disclose his taxes make a mockery of the US constitution. With so many conflicts of interest the American public is left with no choice but to question the motive of every decision he makes as president.
But so far, his supporters have declined to object. What will it take to tip the scale?
- Trump sued for flouting emoluments clause
- The debts and expectations of a global business empire
- What does this mean for his presidency?
To many of Donald Trump’s devotees, he can do no wrong. The mocking of disabled reporters, bragging about sexual assault, labeling Mexicans murderers and rapists, unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and climate change denial to name a few. The view of his fans seems to be that as long as his judgement in matters of government is sound, these scandals can be overlooked.
However, a lawsuit against Trump was filed in Washington this week that all Americans, regardless of affiliation, should take note of. The nonpartisan watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) are seeking a declaratory judgment and injunction against him. The case is based on a little known but extremely important part of the constitution, the Foreign Emoluments Clause.
“Never before have the people of the United States elected a President with business interests as vast, complicated, and secret as those of Donald J. Trump,” stated CREW in the claim. The clause in question dates back to 1787, and it was framed with the purpose of avoiding issues of split loyalty regarding the government. It’s wording is as follows:
“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.”
The clause was framed in order to prevent any leader from receiving gifts of any kind from foreign entities. As such, the official in question would be unable to be indebted to, or hold a special relationship with, said entity. It is considered integral to the anti-corruption ethic of the constitution. George Washington himself said “Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.”
Where do Trump’s loyalties lie?
It begs the question: which entities make contributions to the wealth of the president? Each of the countries considered to be a key part of US foreign policy are known to be making payments to Trump-owned companies; China and the United Arab Emirates.
There are a number of countries in a position that could potentially benefit Trump’s wealth due to relationships he has with them. Among them are Great Britain, India, Indonesia, The Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam.
According to Zephyr Teachout, associate professor of law at Fordham University and one of those involved in the suit, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan may also be involved with Trump businesses. She highlighted payments from the Qatari state airline to Trump Tower in New York, as well as royalties and licensing payments from his show, “The Apprentice” , coming from Britain, Bulgaria, Brazil, Indonesia and Vietnam.
He also has developments in both India and Turkey, the latter of which he even admitted was a conflict of interest: “I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul.”
The implications for his presidency
Trump has attempted to allay the concerns over his hotels by saying that he would turn over “profits” from foreign governments at his hotels to the U.S. treasury. Yet, how Trump’s businesses would calculate that remains unclear as the Trump Organization hasn’t detailed the means by which payments would be tracked, collected and dispersed.
Teachout remains unimpressed by this move: “The point of strong corruption laws like the emoluments clause is that they take the president out of the position of being the judge of inappropriateness. In Trump’s case, though, he has proposed that an official at his company will do exactly that.”
It appears that Trump’s numerous conflicts of interest are mounting. In the six days since he took office he has had to weather numerous storms surrounding his behaviour. However, it remains to be seen if the case will indeed go ahead or indeed that the people of the US, in particular his own supporters, care enough to question his intentions.
The seriousness of the matter was not lost on Teachout: “These are not trivial potential conflicts. They strike at the heart of what it means to be president: undivided loyalty to one’s country.”