Donald Trump’s Violations of the Emoluments Clause
Following his 2017 inauguration, Donald Trump decided to continue managing his business empire in tandem with his new position as Commander-in-Chief. This was notably done without the consent of Congress, raising serious concerns of corruption. America's anti-corruption statute, the Emoluments Clause, was created by the Framers of the Constitution to protect the country from the undue influence of foreign powers and, as such, a conflict of interest. The Emoluments Clause states that:
“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 Framers included both foreign and domestic anti-corruption measures in response to the loose construction of the Articles of Confederation. Furthermore, there were concerns that Virginia and its special domestic interests, as well as those of international governments, could purchase some sort of influence over the President.
Trump’s numerous violations of the Emoluments Clause are well documented. He has repeatedly broken the Emoluments Clause through the entanglement of his business affairs and presidential responsibilities. Foreign countries have paid millions of dollars for space in Trump’s buildings during his presidency. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, for example, has a $2 million (over £1.5 million) annual lease on one of his Manhattan properties. Throughout 2016-2017, the Saudi Arabian government charged up to $270,000 (approximately £205,000) in rooms at a Trump hotel in Washington D.C. Even officials, such as the Prime Minister of Malaysia, stayed in Trump’s properties during diplomatic visits to the country. Alleged Russian and Iranian election interference is also an example of undue influence corrupting the presidency and democratic processes in America.
The political remedy for the breach of this clause is impeachment. Thus, on 14 June 2017, Senator Richard Blumenthal and 200 other members of Congress filed a lawsuit against Trump for his constitutional violation. Over a year later, the District Court of Washington D.C. ruled that Blumenthal et al. could further pursue litigation against Trump for accepting foreign emoluments without giving Congress the opportunity to vote. After a subpoena of his businesses, Trump made a motion to appeal which was granted in 2019. He was then impeached by the House of Representatives on 18 December 2019 for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
However, President Trump was acquitted by the Senate who voted mainly along party lines, allowing him to remain in office. While the case was remanded in earlier in 2020, in October the Supreme Court rejected Blumenthal’s appeal for a writ of certiorari, or judicial review. With Joe Biden’s presidential election win, it is likely that the case against Trump will be dismissed altogether.
It is disappointing to see a lack of accountability from Donald Trump for his continual and egregious constitutional violations, especially in his well-documented infringements of the Emoluments Clause. If there existed no conflict of interest in any of these situations, Trump should have obtained Congress's consent to accept such gifts in advance, like all previous officeholders before him.
Trump’s personal disregard for checks and balances throughout his presidency has bled over into the current presidential election culminating in an equally egregious disregard for the sanctity of America’s election process. He has eroded the cornerstone of democracy by demanding that votes stop being counted while he was ahead in certain states, and giving a victory speech before the election even ended. His failure to concede to President-Elect Joe Biden is simply bad form. It is clear through his failure to work with Congress and notify them of possible emoluments in advance of accepting them, that his desire for absolute power has superseded his duty of upholding the United States Constitution.
It is also disappointing to see a lack of justice. The ultimate check on executive power and remedy for a constitutional violation, an impeachment, was carried out. However, President Trump was not removed from office despite being found guilty of such violations due to partisanship in the senate. When a President’s power cannot be checked, they become authoritarian. I therefore believe that President Trump is the exact type of ruler the Framers tried to protect Americans against when writing the Constitution.