Donald Trump and the Domestic Emoluments Clause
Foreign and Domestic Emoluments
A lot has been written about the Foreign Emoluments Clause and Donald Trump’s likely violations thereof, and rightfully so. While the clause prevents conflicts of interest that could potentially the president’s financial interests against those of the country he represents, Trump maintains a financial stake in his sprawling businesses that attract thousands of dollars from foreign government (see, eg, his Manhattan tower that houses a Chinese state corporation). But there’s another emoluments clause Trump’s clearly violating: The Domestic Emoluments Clause (Article 2, Section 2, Clause 7).
The clause states that the “President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased [sic] nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.” That means the president’s compensation for his duties will not exceed that already in place ($400,000 a year).
Presidents cannot receive any other emoluments from the US government, thus preventing government officials at the federal and state level from using local treasuries to gain the president’s favor, potentially leading the president to favor various locales or states over others. Yet Trump’s DC hotel, from which he still profits, houses members of his administration. Government officials with salaries paid to them by the government — ie, taxpayers — end up in Trump’s pockets; this is an emolument from the United States and a clear violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause.
How Donald Trump Violates the Domestic Emoluments Clause
Steven Mnuchin (the Secretary of the Treasury), Linda McMahon (of the Small Business Administration), and Gary Cohn (Trump’s economic adviser and one-time favorite to replace Janet Yellen at the Federal Reserve) all live in the Trump DC Hotel during the week. Obviously, all three earn money from the government; naturally, they pay to live in Trump’s hotel; Trump profits from hotel revenue. It follows that Trump’s DC hotel, and so Trump, receives money from the US Treasury.
Paying “fair market rates,” as the administration members claim they do, does not alleviate constitutional concerns. Emoluments, as understood at the time of the Constitution’s writing, exist regardless of a transaction fair market value. An emolument covers every single financial transaction between two or more parties.
Basic logic makes clear this constitutional violation from a borderline kleptocratic administration from which Donald Trump seeks to profit, enormously. By failing to divest from his business interests, a truly unprecedented step, Trump will profit — has profited — from his presidency. Pocketing money from foreign governments and those staying in his property to support him or say they support generates innumerable conflicts of interest.
That Donald Trump ignores the Domestic Emoluments Clause, another effort to disgrace the letter and spirit of the Constitution, is yet another reason to urge impeachment.