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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

The Emoluments Clause

Category: Donald Trump
Posted: 06/12/17 17:27

by Dave Mindeman

I sometimes wonder...are we serious about the Constitution or not? In the partisan divide, both sides rate themselves as the true protectors of the Constitution; but I have to ask you, why is the Constitution ignored in the current political climate?

I get all the arguments about free speech and states rights and division of powers - but there are serious questions about the power of the President going on right now, and the topic is either avoided or outright ignored.

Not exactly instilling confidence in our democracy.

My current problem is the emoluments clause.

"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 generally accepted explanation of this is as follows:

It was inserted into the Constitution as a way to prevent sitting leaders from accepting foreign gifts or payments in order to ensure complete neutrality from outside influence and to prevent -- even the appearance -- of corruption.

The Clause applies to "all officials holding appointed positions in the Judicial and Executive Branches of the national government," according to the National Constitution Center.

And the Heritage Foundation (NOT a liberal think tank) took it further:

Similarly, the Framers intended the Emoluments Clause to protect the republican character of American political institutions. "One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption." The Federalist No. 22 (Alexander Hamilton). The delegates at the Constitutional Convention specifically designed the clause as an antidote to potentially corrupting foreign practices of a kind that the Framers had observed during the period of the Confederation.

"Inlet to foreign corruption." "Even the appearance of corruption." That is a pretty high bar. And all of our Presidents have followed that bar - at that level - by putting their personal and business assets into a blind trust. When they negotiated or talk to foreign heads of state, they have no idea what kind of an effect anything they do or say will have on their personal wealth.

But that is different today. Trump does NOT have a blind trust. His family operates the business-- in public. His assets in foreign countries are well endowed with the Trump name so it is pretty hard to miss.

When Trump talks to foreign leaders, you don't think they are briefed by their own people as to the assets owned by Trump in their countries? Can you seriously believe that does not happen?

The Attorneys General of DC and Maryland have filed suit:

In a new legal challenge to President Trump, the Democratic attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit Monday claiming that the president's failure to shed his businesses has undermined public trust and violated constitutional bans against self-dealing.

As with everything they do these days, Republicans will dismiss this action as a partisan ploy. But if reality would hold, they should be joining this suit. This is a Constitutional test. A test we must not fail.

This isn't about Donald Trump - a Republican President. This is about President Donald Trump violating the Constitution. No President - Republican or Democrat - should be allowed to trample over and violate a Constitutional clause meant to protect America from foreign interference and influence.

And this particular President has thumbed his nose at this clause. He directly violates it (not even bothering to avoid "appearances" ) every day he sits in the Oval Office.

And his relationships with our allies - Germany, France, UK, Canada, Australia, and Mexico) - have all been strained for reasons we do not really understand. While foreign autocrats - Russia, Egypt, Phillipines - have gotten favorable treatment. These are unanswered questions and the appearance of self dealing is strong. And as stated before, appearances are part of the issue.

Republicans used to think of themselves as particular watchdogs of Constitutional principle. Well it is their watch, and they have failed.

Failed miserably and the American people need to hold them accountable.
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