Trump, about to face multiple lawsuits over his handling of business entanglements
The news that a citizen watchdog group (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) on Monday filed a lawsuit claiming that President Donald Trump is violating the Constitution by allowing his business to accept payments from foreign governments shouldn't have come as any surprise. The lawsuit claims that a constitutional clause prohibits Trump from receiving money from diplomats for stays at his hotels or foreign governments for leases of office space in his buildings.
That clause is quite correct, as we read Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution stating that no American officeholder 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 is not a historical quirk. Gordon Wood, an American historian, argues that America’s founding fathers were obsessed with the problem of corruption, which they believed had doomed earlier republics. Hence, they inveighed against even the appearance of being "gifted" by foreign interests, nations.
Trump called the lawsuit “without merit, totally without merit” after he signed some of his first executive actions (not technically "orders" since they've not been legally vetted) Monday in the Oval Office. But he is wrong, dead wrong. It is fully with merit and he will learn in the ensuing months just how off base he is.
The watchdog group filed the lawsuit in the Southern District of New York. The group is being represented in part by two former White House chief ethics lawyers: Norman Eisen, who advised Barack Obama, and Richard Painter, who worked under George W. Bush. The two have expresse,d frustration that Trump has refused to take their recommendation and divest from his business, and feel they had no choice but to take legal action. The lawsuit at its core argues:
“As the Framers were aware, private financial interests can subtly sway even the most virtuous leaders, and entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious threat to the Republic.”
At a news conference earlier this month, Trump Organization lawyer Sheri Dillon insisted that the so-called emoluments clause of the Constitution isn’t meant to ban fair-value exchanges. "They didn’t think paying your hotel bill was an emolument,” she said.
But Dillon is wrong. When the hotel bill is paid by a foreign potentate or dignitary or office holder, and to a hotel that is owned by a President - then it IS an emolument. So Sherri doesn't know what she's yapping about, clearly as uninformed as that mistress of misdirection Kellyanne Conway. And btw turning over these business interests to relatives like Jared Kushner, or Donald Jr., is not divesting.
That's why Harvard Law prof Lawrence Tribe was quite clear Monday night on exactly why Trump is guilty of constitutional violations As he observed, after being asked to make his case:
"It's pretty easy. He's receiving benefits big time, of a financial kind from foreign governments all over the world. And that's illegal. It's what the emoluments clause forbids."
Prof. Tribe went on to elaborate the sources from foreign governments that are problematic:
"The first are leases, or private arrangements between businessman Trump and foreign governments. They are hotels, they are easements, all kinds of financial instruments, very intricate and complicated like a Matrushkan doll - inside one another. Corporations inside LLCs - all complicated ways of doing one thing and one thing only: funneling money to Donald Trump when foreign governments decide they want to benefit him in whatever way - whether expanding his Aberdeen golf course, or something else. it enriches him even if they don't pay top dollar for the hotel rooms.
The issue isn't how much they pay, but that they're paying anything. The Constitution basically says that if you're President of the United States you should not be in bed with business partners. Because if you are there is just no way for the American people to know when you make a deal with one of these countries, whether you're making it in the best interests of the country or you want Trump to be first"
To be specific, here are a few examples by geographic location:
- Trump Tower Mumbai, partnered with the Lodha Group whose chairman and founder (Mangal Prabhat) is the VP of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). How do we know what favors Prabhat may curry from the Donald to secretly help advance the BJP? We don't. How do we know how many billions from the BJP may indirectly cross Trump's grubby palms? We don't.
- Trump partnered with Indonesian billionaire Hary Tanoesoedibja on management and branding deals for a resort and residential complex in Bali and a 1700 acre resort in West Java. Hary Tanoe as he's known locally, has been active in opposition parties against President Joko Widodo. Tanoe introduced Trump to several local politicians including one at the center of a corruption scandal. Trump's deals with Hary also entail Chinese and South Korean state-controlled companies.
- Dubai properties: Trump is involved with multiple deals with billionaire developer Hussain Ali Sajwani. Sajwani himself has engaged in several controversial land deals with senior officials in the United Arab Emirates .During Trump's recent news conference he actually admitted Sajwani offered him $2 billion worth of development deals in Dubai. The question elicited is: How do we know what Trump ISN'T telling us? We don't. Can we trust him to reveal all his deals and offers? I doubt it! The bastard is a congenital liar so you can't trust anything he blabbers or tweets.
How should Trump solve his problem? Tribe again:
"All he has to do is dissolve his assets. He has to sell off his interest in the hotels, liquidate them and then convert them into assets that can be put into a genuinely blind trust. So he has no way of knowing which governments are greasing his palm. What he's done instead is simply put them behind a kind of one way mirror. He still has these properties but he says. it's enough for them to be managed by his sons and a long time employee. That doesn't solve the problem at all, it just exacerbates it by creating an optical illusion that some people may be deceived by".
On the issue of needing "Standing" to bring such a case, Tribe is equally clear:
"Well, the group is positively harmed by this labyrninthine maze of emoluments that the president is involved in It's whole mission is devoted to getting corruption out of government, especially where money is involved. So it's having to use money and resources it could have used instead on shadowy political campaigns or other corruption. These now must be used going down the rabbit hole of tracking down all the mysterious ways Trump is enriching jhis empire, day by day. That's the kind of harm the Supreme Court, in a case called Haven's Realty gives you standjng to sue.
When Trump says the case has no merit, I wonder what constitutional law course he took but I don't think he knows what he's talking about".
In the end, the decision to hear the case will show whether we are still a nation of laws, or have mutated to become so lawless that we can't even recognize constitutional violations when they occur.
The group behind Monday’s lawsuit also filed a complaint Friday addressed to the General Services Administration, an agency that oversees the lease of the government-owned building that houses Trump’s new Washington hotel. The complaint, argued the agency, must cancel the lease because it expressly forbids any elected official from benefiting from it.
GSA officials had said they needed to wait until Trump took office before weighing in on the issue. They have yet to issue an opinion, though, and have not responded to repeated requests for comment. Democrats in the House and Senate on Monday sent letters to Acting Administrator Timothy Horne seeking information about what the agency plans to do. One must hope Mr. Horne is not intimidated into inaction by the Trumpsters.
Are we a nation of laws or scofflaws? The answer is contingent on whether Trump is held to account for his multiple, dangerous business entanglements - which fairly reek of potential corruption. How can we know, in deed, what nefarious deals he is making to enrich himself behind our backs? The argument from the likes of Sherri Dillon that he "shouldn't have to lose money" is insane bollocks. He ought to have thought of that before running for President!
If he didn't wish to "lose money" or profits by divesting from business assets, then he should have remained a real estate tycoon and developer and not campaigned for the Oval Office. NO President has a God-given right to also be a billionaire and real estate tycoon!
Mr. Trump will now learn his own extensive Trump assets will be his likely downfall... IF we are a nation of laws and adhere to the Constitution.