Robert Reich: Why Are Taxpayers Funding Trump's Legal Defense?

A sign for a news conference at the National Press Club to announce the filing of a lawsuit against President Donald Trump and his D.C. hotel company alleging unfair competition in Washington, on March 9. Robert Reich reports another case, accusing Trump of breaking the emoluments clause of the Constitution by profiting from his businesses while in office. Having the U.S. Department of Justice represent Trump’s financial interests around the world is just another way Trump is fleecing America and making money off of his presidency. Kevin Lamarque/reuters

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Donald Trump's business (now run by his two adult sons) has 157 trademark applications pending in 36 countries, according to The New York Times.

Registered trademarks are huge financial assets for a business like Trump's, which is now focused on marketing his name rather than building or making anything.

And all these countries depend on decisions Trump will have a hand in making—over trade, foreign policy, international banking, foreign aid and the use of military force.

So it wouldn't be surprising if several of these countries granted the trademark applications in order to court Trump's favor (or avoid his disfavor). It's the art of the deal.

Related: Robert Reich: Trump's 13 broken promises (so far)

When the Chinese granted Trump preliminary approval of 38 trademarks of his name soon after he was sworn into office—and right after Trump backed off of his brief flirtation with a "two China" policy—China gave Trump the equivalent of a huge amount of money.

"It was a gift," said Peter J. Riebling, a trademark lawyer in Washington. "Getting the exclusive right to use that brand in China against everyone else in the world? It's like waving a magic wand."

Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump has 37 trademark applications pending in 10 countries, covering the sale of leather goods in China, jewelry in the Philippines and beauty products in Indonesia.

Doesn't all this violate the Constitution? After all, Article I, Section 9 (the so-called emoluments clause) prohibits government officials from accepting any economic benefit from a foreign power—presumably including trademark approvals.

We may soon find out. A lawsuit filed in January in the Southern District of New York, by a group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, joined by several prominent law professors, seeks a judgment that Trump has violated the emoluments clause.

Related: Robert Reich: Four (or five) grounds for impeaching Trump

Who's representing Trump in that lawsuit? The United States, in the form of senior attorneys in the Department of Justice.

In a legal brief expected to be filed this month, department lawyers will argue that the framers of the Constitution meant only to rule out gifts and compensation for services rather than for any favorable policies; that, in any event, the court has no authority to intervene because the power to waive the clause lies with Congress; and plaintiffs have no standing to sue, anyway.

Why is the U.S. Justice Department representing Trump's personal financial interests, and not the broader interests of the citizens of the United States? Don't the rest of us have a right to be represented?

Interpretations of the U.S. Constitution by the Department of Justice aren't like the musings of any random defense attorney. They carry special weight. They're supposed to represent the views of the United States.

But there's no justification for the United States getting behind an interpretation of Article I, Section 9 that favors Trump's personal financial interests.

Having the U.S. Department of Justice represent Trump's financial interests around the world is just another way Trump is fleecing America and making money off of his presidency.

We the people need to be represented against Donald Trump's far-flung businesses. Trump can afford his own lawyer.

Robert Reich is the chancellor's professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, and Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He has written 14 books, including the best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations and Beyond Outrage and, most recently, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-creator of the award-winning documentary Inequality for All.