Trump Organization's Dominican Republic Projects Could Be Grounds for Impeachment: Experts

The Trump Organization could soon finalize an agreement to partner on a large construction project in the Dominican Republic, according to a report from Fast Company.

The news comes despite the fact that President Donald Trump pledged not to pursue foreign deals while in office, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Experts say that Trump is creating the perception that his administration is corrupt by failing to divest his private businesses. Impeachment should be on the table if the president is making money from private business deals, one corruption expert told Newsweek.

"With any of the ongoing business dealings that exist in at least 19 different countries around the world, any of these represent a potential point of leverage, a point where the president himself could have reason to make decisions that would put his private interests above the nation's," Alexander Howard, deputy director of the anti-corruption organization the Sunlight Foundation, told Newsweek.

"The recourse for this is for Congress to act. If the president is receiving emoluments, it is appropriate to consider impeachment. That's the recourse that the drafters of the Constitution have offered," Howard added.

The Constitution’s "emoluments clause" is a provision that restricts members of government from receiving gifts or emoluments from foreign states without the permission of Congress. Many analysts have argued that Trump's failure to divest his overseas businesses violates this provision. 

But in December, a federal judge dismissed a pair of lawsuits that argued the Trump’s failure to divest his real estate holdings and other business holdings violated the emoluments clause. The judge said it is up to Congress to decide whether the defendant is breaking the law and said the cases present “a non-justiciable political question.”

But even if Trump's business interests aren't a violation of the Constitution, some experts say they are a breach of public trust. 

"The fact that his company is doing business could be an emoluments issue if the foreign government is making accommodations, greasing the wheels for the Trump company. But even if that's not true, Trump the man is making money," Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, told Newsweek. "It is certainly using public office for private gain, even if you could say the government wasn't involved."  

Last month, the Cap Cana Group, a partner of the Trump Organization, was granted permits to build 17 towers, including condominiums reportedly linked to the Trump Organization, according to Fast Company. The Trump Organization sued Cap Cana in 2012 and accused the company of owing it $14 million, but the case was later settled. The president's son Eric Trump reportedly visited Capa Cana in early 2017, and the company subsequently issued a statement saying, "We are enthusiastic to work with the Trump Organization in future phases of the project."

Trump is the only modern president who has both refused to release his taxes to the public and divest his private businesses while in office. In response, the Sunlight Foundation is compiling a comprehensive list that tracks Trump's conflicts of interest.

"At the most basic level, the fact that President Trump failed to divest makes a farce out of any attempt of his to say he is indifferent to his business interests when he conducts foreign policy," Fredrickson said. "He put [the company] in the hands of his sons, he talks to his sons all the time, he knows full well where the company is investing. As the man in charge of our foreign policy, it is very disturbing." 

Moreover, some analysts say that foreign politicians and business elites are eager to use Trump's private businesses to forge alliances with the world’s most powerful political leader.

"We are seeing, broadly, a market-based reaction on the part of foreign governments and others to use Trump properties as levers of influence. They are choosing to use golf courses and hotels," Howard said. "It is the clearest example of play to sway politics. People understandably perceive them as a way to curry favor with the administration."

The Trump Organization's lawyers told Fast Company that the project in the Dominican Republic is part of an existing licensing deal signed in 2007 and is not a new venture. 

Still, Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School, said the project adds to a long list of Trump's conflicts of interest. 

"More opportunities for Trump to violate the foreign emoluments clause and, for good measure, to break his promises to the world—along with his oath of office. Par for the course with this president," Tribe told Newsweek.