Why Democrats Chase Trump On Emoluments
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Two hundred congressional Democrats determined to take down the Trump presidency are suing in federal court, claiming the president is violating the Constitution. This suit lays out the Democratic Party’s road map to impeachment.
On Friday a federal judge gave the lawsuit the go-ahead. Democrats, led by Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, are suing based on the Constitution’s obscure “emoluments clause.” Democrats are intent on making “emoluments” a household word.
What’s an emolument? A gift that could be used to bribe an official.
The Constitution bars officials from taking “any present, emolument,” title or job from foreign governments. “If discovered,” Edmund Randolph explained in 1788, the president “may be impeached.” The framers wanted to prevent bribery and influence buying.
In 1785, two years before the Constitution was written, Benjamin Franklin returned from a diplomatic mission to France carrying a gift from King Louis XVI — a gold box encrusted with diamonds. He set the precedent by offering the gift to Congress, to avoid even the appearance of undue influence or a quid pro quo. The framers made Franklin’s precedent the rule for any gifts received from foreign governments.
Democrats are twisting the meaning of emoluments, preposterously claiming that when the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, rents a room or party space to Saudi Arabia or another foreign government at the market rate, the payment is an “emolument” or bribe to the president.
Mr. Blumenthal says the lawsuit’s purpose is “to hold the president accountable for violating the chief corruption prohibition” in the Constitution. Don’t buy it — the suit is a fishing expedition to force Mr. Trump to turn over his business records.
Democrats are teeing up the emoluments issue now in case they take the House in the midterm elections. Passing Articles of Impeachment requires only a simple majority.
Even with the votes, they won’t have the facts on their side. A gift is one thing, a routine business transaction another thing entirely. If foreign officials play golf on a Trump course, or buy an apartment at Trump Tower, and pay the same price as anyone else, where’s the corruption?
Calling arms-length transactions with foreign countries “emoluments” would disqualify all major business owners from the presidency — Mike Bloomberg, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates — an idea career politicians must love.
In response to lawsuits, Mr. Trump explains that he doesn’t keep track of which countries are renting rooms at Trump International. A trust — which includes a complete ban on new foreign deals — is running Mr. Trump’s businesses without the president’s oversight. In February, Trump donated the 2017 profits from business dealings with foreign governments — at his hotels and other real-estate holdings — to the United States Treasury.
It’s a far cry from the unsavory closeness between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s government dealings and the Clinton Foundation. Madame Secretary turned her government office into a cash machine for her family foundation. Just what the emoluments clause was intended to prevent.
At Mrs. Clinton’s Senate confirmation hearing in 2009, members of the Foreign Relations Committee raised concerns that the Clinton Foundation would be a “temptation for any foreign entity or government that believes it could curry favor through a donation.” It would look like the US government was up for sale. Mrs. Clinton’s attitude? Too bad.
The money poured in. For example, a $500,000 gift from Algeria in 2010 and a $1 million gift from Qatar in 2012, while these countries were lobbying the US government. The Qatar gift only came to light in an e-mail disclosure in 2016.
That’s when the Clintons said the foundation would stop accepting foreign donations if Hillary became president. Right.
Violating the emoluments clause is a serious enough offense to warrant impeachment. But Mr. Trump’s the wrong target. When Hillary Clinton routinely violated the clause, Democrats were silent. Their sudden interest now is obvious hypocrisy.
Ms. McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research. This column first appeared in the New York Post.