Now that multiple lawsuits have passed muster in federal court to be allowed to proceed against Donald Trump regarding his violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, we’re almost certain that most Americans have at least a passing familiarity with it: It precludes the President from being able to accept payments or gifts from foreign countries or leaders without the express approval of Congress.
The purpose of such a clause is to prevent any leader of this country from being beholden to the leader of any other country — our interests must come first.
But buried in the ethics of a law like that — and mostly unmentioned in either the Constitution or in settled US case law — is whether or not a President gets to make money off his own people. On its face, that’s an unethical proposal, since leverage like that could conceivably be used in either the positive or the negative sense. Pay me or I won’t do things for you, pay me and I will do things for you.
The reason it’s gone mostly un-addressed is that we’ve never had a President who didn’t divest themselves of businesses that could potentially be used to these ends. Ever, until now.
Trump’s office (the oval-shaped one) is a mere five blocks from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. Technically, he could use any room in that building as an office, because he owns it. The profits from it go to him.
So what’s to stop a company — say, one like a major cell phone provider, maybe T-Mobile — from coincidentally deciding they should probably stay at the Trump International, where rooms at the low end of the price range are $300 per night? In fact, what’s to stop them from doing that literally immediately after announcing that, um, hey, they need this little approval for a merger?
That’s exactly what happened, as I’m sure you guessed. The day after T-Mobile announced their intent to merge with rival Sprint last April — pending approval by the Trump administration — staffers at the Trump International got a list of VIPs who would be staying there. Nine executives from the company stayed at the Trump International for multiple nights, literally giving Donald Trump thousands and thousands of dollars.
How is this still a thing? And will it affect whether or not the Trump administration approves the long-sought merger for T-Mobile?
Trump has always been one to look out for people who give him money.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons