By Dean Baker
Donald Trump is about to become president and immediately begin violating the Constitution. The Constitution explicitly prohibits the president from taking payments and gifts from foreign governments. (Can we stop using the term “emolument“? No one has used it for a hundred years. We want to be clear on what the Constitution means.)
Donald Trump is right now and will continue to be taking payments and gifts from foreign governments in the form of benefits to his properties, unless he dumps the stuff. This is about as clear a violation of the constitutional provision imaginable, so why on Earth do we have Andrew Ross Sorkin (New York Times, 11/28/16) approvingly accepting Donald Trump’s nonsense claim in his letter to Mr. Trump?
You understand the conundrum. “In theory, I don’t have to do anything” to distance yourself from your business holdings, you told journalists at the New York Times last week, “but I would like to do something — I would like to try and formalize something.”
This is wrong. Trump absolutely does have to do something. It’s not a question of his being a nice guy. This is a constitutional provision. The Constitution sets the rules on who can be president and how they conduct themselves. Just as it says the president must be at least 35 years old and must be a native-born citizen, it also says the president can’t take payments from foreign governments.
Perhaps even more incredible than Sorkin’s misrepresentation of the Constitution, his plan is just a bad joke.
Voluntarily agree to hire what is known as a “corporate monitor,” an independent overseer with unfettered access to your organizations who will provide regular reports to the public about any possible instances of conflicts.
Okay, let’s get this one straight. Donald Trump can’t keep himself from tweeting out loony claims about massive vote fraud in the middle of the night. He routinely makes personal attacks on his critics without any evidence. This guy is going to defer to a “corporate monitor” in his actions as president?
So when President Erdogan in Turkey gives favorable treatment to Trump’s golf courses there, is the corporate monitor going to be able to know if this affects Donald Trump’s decision to look the other way as he locks up all his political opponents? If Scotland decides to ban the wind turbines near his resort, will the corporate monitor know if this affects his attitude towards Scottish independence? And, as a practical matter, do we really believe that Trump would be constantly checking in with his corporate monitor anyhow?
Sorkin’s proposal is a complete joke. If we give a damn about the Constitution, Donald Trump has to sell off his empire and place his assets in a blind trust, just like every other president has done for the last half century. (I explain how he could do this here.) If he chooses not to do this, then Trump is constitutionally unable to be president, just as if he was born in Kenya. It’s that simple.
Economist Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. A version of this post originally appeared on CEPR’s blog Beat the Press (4/30/15).
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