Three Questions About the Emoluments Clause and President Donald Trump

How an ethics watchdog group hopes an obscure clause in the Constitution will force President Trump to give up his foreign business interests while he’s in the White House.



On Monday, a DC based ethics group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump over him violating the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution. While the lawsuit itself might not be THAT big of a deal, many legal experts are wondering if this lawsuit could be the first of many brought on against President Trump!


So what is the Emoluments Clause and how is President Trump potentially violating it? Let’s take a closer look!



What is the Emoluments Clause and What Does It Have to Do w/ President Trump?


The Emoluments Clause in the Constitution 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.”


So in other words, the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution is to make sure that government officials don’t accept any direct gifts from foreign leaders or outside government entities. At the time when the Constitution was written, the basic idea was to dissuade government leaders and ambassadors from being bought off by rich European nobles.


CREW is claiming, in their lawsuit, that President Trump is in direct violation of the Emoluments Clause because his companies are currently taking in money from foreign governments through the form of rent and room rentals at their hotels and other company owned buildings.



Is President Trump Really Violating the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution?


It depends on who you ask.


Obviously President Trump said on Monday that the lawsuit brought on by CREW was, “totally without merit!” In the past, President Trump has claimed that conflicts-of-interest laws do not apply to the presidency as it does with other elected officials; by in which he is right. However, if a court was to find that President Trump, was in fact violating the Constitution, then presidential immunity wouldn’t help him here. Even though the Trump Organization has yet to officially release a statement on the matter, it’s a safe assumption to think they’ll side with President Trump on this one.


CREW – and other ethics watchdog groups – however feel very differently. Their reasoning behind the lawsuit stems from the fact that these hotels and rental properties, that the Trump Organization currently owns, are giving foreign governments a direct line to President Trump in the form of monetary gifts. The example they’ll point to is how a state-run Chinese bank (Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd.) is currently renting office space from Trump Tower in Manhattan and will have to renegotiate their lease during President Trump’s time in office.



How Will the Court’s Decide and What Does the Lawsuit Hope to Achieve?  


No one really knows how the court plans to rule on the lawsuit, because there haven’t been any cases where the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution has been cited. The last time the Emoluments Clause was even brought up was when Benjamin Franklin accepted a bomb-ass snuff box embroidered in 408 diamonds from the King of France. And yes, that’s a thing that actually happened! Since then, the obscure clause in the Constitution has never been brought up. So it’s anyone’s guess.


As for what the lawsuit hopes to accomplish, in CREW’s legal complaint, they want President Trump’s businesses to stop taking money from foreign companies. However, if along the way the case forced President Trump’s companies to be more transparent by the ways of making business documents public, like the Trump Organization’s tax filings, then that could also be looked at as a win by ethics watchdog groups.


Essentially, the lawsuit is designed to force President Trump to be more transparent with his business dealings. Anything that moves toward that direction, watchdog groups would consider it a win.


(Photo Credits: Google Images,


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