22 Foreign Governments Have Patronized Trump Businesses, Some Legal Experts Say That Violates The U.S. Constitution

A new analysis of foreign government patronage at the Trump Organization has illustrated the volume of conflicts of interest for President Donald Trump and his namesake business.

Representatives of 22 different foreign governments have spent money at properties owned by the Trump Organization since 2017, a possible violation of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause, according to a review of the public record by NBC News.

The Emoluments Clause, located in Article I of the U.S. Constitution, states that federal officials, including the president, cannot receive gifts, compensation or items of value from foreign governments, their rulers or representatives.

Constitutional historians and legal experts tell Newsweek that the latest report has renewed the urgency of resolving the foreign emoluments issue in federal court, where it has, until now, yielded essentially no case law.

"Every American should be incredibly troubled by this jaw-dropping news," Deepak Gupta, who represents litigants in two of the ongoing emoluments lawsuits, told Newsweek in a written statement. "The Framers of the Constitution were very concerned about the danger that foreign powers could corrupt our Republic by lining the President's pockets. That's exactly why we have a Foreign Emoluments Clause. Donald Trump has been violating that Clause since Day One of his presidency."

Trump is currently being sued in three federal jurisdictions over allegations that his continued interest in the Trump Organization makes him the ultimate beneficiary of foreign payments to his company, violating the Constitution's apparent prohibition on these transactions with federal officeholders.

Constitutional historian and law professor Jed Shugerman told Newsweek that the analysis bolsters new claims under the Emoluments Clause by expanding the base of individuals who may have standing before the courts on this issue.

"The more foreign states that are implicated in giving payments to Trump, the more potential plaintiffs you have out there who have a legal interest in the harm that they're suffering in terms of this unfair competition," Shugerman, who filed an amicus brief in support of an emoluments suit, observed. "This is a major Constitutional question that has never been addressed before by federal courts."

Erwin Chemerinsky, a dean at Berkeley School of Law who is also involved in the emoluments litigation, said that the payments implicated a clear pattern of Constitutional violations.

"The Constitution, in Article I, Section 9, is clear that individuals who hold positions of trust in the federal government cannot receive emoluments or presents from foreign governments, yet that is exactly what is happening here," he told Newsweek.

Trump's unusual ethics arrangement leaves him alone in the camp of modern presidents who have retained significant business interests while serving in the White House. The president and his attorneys have outlined an ethics plan where day to day control over the Trump Organization is being handled by the president's two adult sons, though it has left the president as the ultimate beneficiary of his company stock. The president also promised that profits from foreign governments would be donated.

Yet questions about whether foreign officials have been booking rooms at Trump-owned properties in order to insinuate themselves with the president have hardly diminished.

"There is little if any doubt that [the founding fathers] would have regarded foreign governments using hotel reservations to curry favor with a sitting president as a threatening activity that would corrupt his performance of his constitutional duties," legal historian Jack Rakove, who took part in the amicus brief, told Newsweek.

The NBC News analysis noted several different avenues of potential influence-peddling, including hosting events at Trump Organization properties, renting or purchasing units in Trump buildings and staying at Trump-owned hotels.

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US President Donald Trump takes part in a joint press conference with Poland's President Andrzej Duda in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on June 12, 2019. Getty/MANDEL NGAN
22 Foreign Governments Have Patronized Trump Businesses, Some Legal Experts Say That Violates The U.S. Constitution | Politics