President-elect Trump cannot exempt himself from the Constitution

January 11, 2017
In The News

The Constitution clearly states: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

The law defines public service as a public trust. It requires government employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, and laws and ethical principles above private gain. At his inauguration, President-elect Donald J. Trump will swear an oath to uphold the Constitution. Given the immensity of Mr. Trump’s business dealings, grave concerns exist that he will immediately be in violation of this oath.

Every one of his personal investments will pose a conflict of interest. Any ongoing foreign business relationship threatens to violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. The Constitution must be upheld.

Our Founding Fathers identified the principles important to the bedrock of our democracy; they included an anticorruption measure known as the Emolument Clause. Its inclusion emphasized their desire to preserve independence from external influence. There is no question this principle should apply to this President, as it has to every other President of our nation.

Mr. Trump has achieved great wealth and his investments spread across the United States and dozens of foreign countries. His personal finances are directly impacted not only by our own policy but also by policies adopted in other nations.  His debt obligations pose great conflicts of interests and the possibility of hidden influences will eclipse every action and decision Mr. Trump makes. There is no way to be sure of the full depth of Mr. Trump’s conflicts. He continues to refuse to release his tax returns, a key component of accountability provided by every President and presidential candidate since Richard Nixon.

When asked what he will do to eliminate the conflicts, Mr. Trump has said it’s “a very simple situation” and “routine.”  Yet, thus far, he has not explained how he will address the conflicts. Meanwhile, there has been little division between Mr. Trump’s business interests and his transition. This fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach is unconstitutional and dangerous to liberty.

Our Founding Fathers would not accept this uncertainty and subversion of the Constitution. They constructed the Clause to clearly forbid self-serving dealings. They established a clear baseline of unacceptable conduct, rather than force after-the-fact judgement. Further, they granted Congress the power to validate exchanges. Now, Congress must act to uphold our Constitution. Congress must decide what should be allowed and what cannot be tolerated with Mr. Trump’s business dealings. There must be full sunlight and full separation of private interests from the public trust.

I introduced a bill, the “No Congressional Consent for President Donald J. Trump to Accept Foreign Emoluments of Any Kind Whatsoever,” to empower Congress to explicitly deny Mr. Trump consent of acceptance of any and all emoluments, whatever they may be. Now it’s up to Speaker Paul Ryan to bring it to the House Floor for a vote.

To simply turn the management of Mr. Trump’s vast business interests over to his children fails to address his conflicts of interest, especially since relatives have been appointed to key White House posts. Mr. Trump must divest of both ownership and management of all his holdings, with the proceeds managed by a true blind trust. Congress must accept nothing less.

Already, Mr. Trump’s behavior causes concern. Look at the phone calls and meetings he has since taken with leaders in Argentina, Georgia, and India where long-stalled development projects were quickly reenergized and advanced past permit impediments. And even though we have not had diplomatic relations with Taiwan since 1979, Mr. Trump had a phone conversation with their President, and we learned that a Trump Organization representative was recently in Taiwan regarding a hotel development. Just blocks from the White House, foreign representatives acknowledge their desires and intentions to ingratiate themselves with Mr. Trump by staying at the Trump International Hotel. This is specifically prohibited by the General Service Administration, which approves the lease for the building.

Judgment is critical to leadership and ethical decision-making, but judgment can be easily influenced. This Mr. Trump knows well from his own personal political donations as well as his call to “drain the swamp.” 

The highest ranking employee in the Federal government is not exempt from the Constitution. Congress owes it to the American people to ensure that these principles are upheld in the interests of liberty. 

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur is the longest serving woman in Congress and represents the 9th District of Ohio. Jill Long Thompson is former Member of Congress from Indiana and current Visiting Clinical Professor of Ethics at the Kelley School of Business and School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington.

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