Friday, January 12, 2018

'Toontime: Trumpworld

credit: M Streeter, Savannah Morning News
Amidst all the breathless blather floating over the airwaves about the investigation of Trumpy's alleged 'collusion' with Russians to steal the election from hapless Hillary, the major high crime of the President is his flagrant use of public office to enrich himself. This constitutional crisis can be summed up under the term, "emoluments". That is the constitutional term for favors or money not permitted to be received by a sitting president. The reason for the rule in Articles I and II should be obvious: the President should not accept bribes, either domestic (Art. II) or foreign (Art. I), in return for political favors. Look at the list complied by Washington Monthly of Trump's profiting off the presidency.

Trump is an unprecedented occupant of the White House. No other president has entered office with a fortune as immense as his.  Estimated at $3.1 billion, it spans 500 companies in twenty-five countries.  Former presidents like Jimmy Carter placed their business interests in a blind trust before taking office.  Trump did too, but his "trust" is significantly different.  His trustees are close family members who give the pater familias regular reports on their business interests, and the trust terms allow him to withdraw assets or profits at any time.  This means, of course, that Trump has a direct interest in any government policies affecting the Trump companies. Trump is being sued by two hundred Democrats in Congress, a ethics watch-dog group, and several private hotel competitors for his questionable merging of public business and private interests.

CREW, a non-profit ethics committee says in its suit, that Trump’s business interests are “creating countless conflicts of interest, as well as unprecedented influence by foreign governments, and have resulted and will further result in numerous violations of the Constitution.” As an example it points to the numerous foreign diplomats encouraged to stay at the Trump hotel in Washington while lobbying the federal government. Saudi Arabia has spent more than a quarter of a million dollars—$190,000 on lodging, $78,000 on catering, and $1,600 on parking at 'Trumpworld'. In US Person's opinion, profiting Trump business interests, while occupying the highest-profile political office in the world, was a major reason Trumpy ran for public office.  Considering security costs alone, Trump funnels significant amounts of public funds toward his resort businesses when he frequents them while traveling on public affairs.  He also leases property from the federal landowner, GSA, at the Old Post Office Building for his Trump International Hotel. Business there is booming. Since the GSA is headed by a Trump appointee, he is effectively both landlord and tenant.  Sweet deal if you can get it!

Granted the emolument clauses only apply to governments giving favors, not to private concerns. And Trump could avoid the emoluments ban altogether by disclosing his questionable dealings to Congress which could then approve them. Undoubtedly he is loath to do so since he doe not want more public scrutiny of his business affairs or personal finances (the Trump organization makes liberal use of shell companies to conceal the source and identity of funds).  Trump has been getting away with his self-dealing since he took office because most of his activity is simply sleazy from an ethics standpoint, not criminal. But a thorough federal investigation of the growing meld between Trumpworld and the Office of President would probably reveal dealings that cross the line into the "high crimes and misdemeanors" zone.

credit: Nate Beeler, Columbus Dispatch
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