- An important but overlooked element of the Trump presidency is that he’s actively profiting while in office.
- The president has many business dealings which continue to earn him money in violation of the constitution.
- He’s refused to divest — and the lawsuits have poured in.
President Donald Trump has been stapled to the news headlines for more than two straight years now. While he’s had his victories, most of the news and analysis surrounding his candidacy and administration hasn’t been positive, however. There’s been scandal after scandal, legislative failings, and social media firestorms. Given the man’s history with the law and numerous shady business dealings, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anybody.
But as most people have focused on the bigger, sexier scandals surrounding the Trump administration — Russia, mostly — smaller, but equally robust issues plague the president. Specifically, there’s a big issue concerning Trump’s businesses and his holding power as president. The big issue? Trump is actively profiting from the presidency, which is something that the framers never intended.
Though he promised to divest himself from his business interests while in office, Trump hasn’t done so. And we still don’t have his tax returns to shed light on whether or not his behavior is in some way benefiting his business’ ledgers. We know, already, that taxpayer money has been flowing to some of his businesses, like Mar-a-Lago.
Yet, in spite of the public seeing their tax dollars flow directly into the Trump Organization, no one has stepped up to put a stop to it — despite the rules being laid out in the Constitution. How is he making money? And why isn’t anyone doing anything about it? We’ll get into it.
First up: A look at how the spread and scope of Trump’s businesses dealings.
- Trump claims to control more than 500 businesses in dozens of countries around the world.
First of all, we have to touch on the Trump Organization. It’s huge and has properties and business interests all over the world. The company is private, so we don’t have a clear picture of exactly how big and valuable it is. But we do know that Trump promised to divest himself — or to walk away — from his business while in office. The main reason, of course, is to avoid conflicts of interest. For example, Trump wouldn’t want to conduct a military operation in a city in which he owns valuable property. There is an innumerable number of potential scenarios, but this is an obvious one given that Trump owns property in somewhat unstable countries.
The problem, though, is that he hasn’t divested. And he’s still making money.
Next: How is he profiting from the presidency?
Making money in office
- Trump’s businesses are benefiting from his family being in power — including his resorts like Mar-a-Lago and his D.C. hotel.
Trump is using his position as president to promote his own business interests, which is the key issue here, and the problem that the framers intended to avoid. Examples include his numerous trips to his own resorts and properties (like those in New Jersey and Florida) while charging Secret Service and transportation costs to the taxpayers. He also continues to sell merchandise. Foreign dignitaries are herded to Trump’s D.C. hotel. And Trump wine is even being promoted from and by the White House. Even Ivanka Trump’s merchandise has been unethically promoted by the administration.
Next: Why is this an issue? You’ll have to go back to 1776.
- The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution prohibits profiting from the presidency.
Now, for a quick recap: Why is this all a problem? Because it’s against the rules. Trump — with his business interests in the back of his mind (or forefront) — is making decisions as the leader of the country, under the guise of what’s best for the country. But he won’t be in office forever, and he may be putting Trump Organization interests before the public interest. This, of course, is something that the courts will need to hash out. Is the public actually being harmed? Is there any proof that Trump is violating the Constitution?
A slew of lawsuits seeks to answer those questions. The most maddening part? You, the taxpayer, are paying for Trump’s defense.
Next: The lawsuits.
- Several lawsuits have been filed alleging the president is violating the Emoluments Clause. Oral arguments begin in January.
Don’t worry, the apparent Emoluments Clause violations haven’t gone unnoticed. Several lawsuits are working their way through the courts. It appears pretty serious, too, as Trump businesses are being subpoenaed and ordered to preserve documents. There are three (or four) suits that have been filed, and the Trump administration has, naturally, asked that they are thrown out. Again, a judge will need to decide if he’s actually run afoul of the law. But it seems that there are definitely some conflicts of interest at play. Which brings us to our next question: What is Trump’s defense?
Next: The Department of Justice has rushed to the president’s defense. How, exactly, are they defending him?
- The main DOJ argument is that it’s not unconstitutional for the president’s private interests to earn profits while he or she serves — and that there is no damage to the public.
As mentioned, you — the American taxpayer — are paying for Trump’s defense. You are literally paying for lawyers to argue that Trump has a right to profit from the presidency. While that sinks in, we can get to the other burning question at hand, which is why Trump thinks he is in the right here. According to a report from USA Today, it boils down to this:
“The taxpayer-funded lawyers are making the case that it is not unconstitutional for the president’s private companies to earn profits from foreign governments and officials while he’s in office.” Further, “The government lawyers and Trump’s private attorneys are making the same arguments — that the Constitution’s ban on a president taking gifts from foreign interests in exchange for official actions does not apply to foreign government customers buying things from Trump’s companies. The plaintiffs, including ethics groups and competing businesses, argue the payments pose an unconstitutional conflict of interest.”
Again — we’ll have to wait for the courts to hash it all out.
Next: Will the courts let Trump get away with it?
Will Trump get away with it?
- It’s hard to predict, but nobody has seemed willing to step up and do anything.
You can agree or disagree with the president’s actions, but it’s obvious that he’s violating the spirit of the law, at the very least. He himself promised to step away from his interests and didn’t, implying that he knew he should have even before taking office. As for whether or not a court will drop the hammer on him, it’s hard to say. There isn’t much legal precedent in this area. President Obama had a brief spat with the law concerning his Nobel Peace Price, but other than that? Emoluments violations don’t bubble up very often.
Finally: The big question: What sort of example are we setting?
Setting a dangerous precedent
- If the president’s behavior isn’t curbed, does it set a precedent for how we’ll deal with similar situations in the future?
It’s more than just making sure the president acts in good faith while in office. The real issue here is establishing a precedent going forward. While we evidently appear willing let him get away with anything he wants (including Emoluments violations), what can we expect from future presidents? It’s a test for the courts, of course, but also a test for what and how much the public is willing to put up with from our elected officials. If we don’t put our foot down now, what happens when another (more competent) president proceeds to go out of bounds?
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