Emoluments and Trump

C. Fraser Smith, BridgeTower Media Newswires


From Day 1 of the Donald Trump regime, Americans have known their president violates the so-called emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.

He's forbidden from leveraging the financial benefits of his vast holdings. He could hardly avoid breaking this law if that's what it is.

Irrefutable evidence seems to cry out for some action. A Trump hotel stands gaudily entertaining foreign diplomats mere blocks from the White House.

Lobbyists and other favor-seekers trip all over themselves to stay there, apparently imagining some sort of quid pro quo from the president. One assumes all this includes fear that failure to stay there will be regarded as some sort of snub.

This is a president who organizes congratulatory meetings in which his Cabinet members praise him for his accomplishments whatever they or he thinks they are.

So now, six months or so after his inauguration, Trump gets sued by Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine. They make the argument that emoluments are plain for all to see in the old Post Office repurposed as a Trump Hotel.

This hotel, the attorneys general say, is impermissible competition with similar entities in Maryland and the District. Perhaps there is some squishy legal argument that allows the president to evade the apparently gross violations.

The lawsuit challenges any such claim. We will see, of course, should the legal proceeding move forward. So far, the courts have applied the law in such matters usually to Trump's disfavor.

One of the more tantalizing possibilities raised by this gambit involves the president's tax returns.

Frosh and Racine argue that his alleged violation of the emoluments clause calls into question the president's obligation to deliver "honest service" to the American people.

The process of legal discovery in this case might force Trump to surrender his returns. That alone is worth the price of admission.

The law and the legal establishment turn out to be a sticky wicket indeed for this president. Trump's apparent belief that he can operate as a corporate powerhouse seems to be failing at every turn. Smart, partisan lawyers such as Frosh may be expected to press their case as they should.

Finally, again, someone steps forward to assert that, on yet another important issue, no one is above the law in our country. Holding Trump to that bedrock precept, the two law officers are acting in accord with the Constitution.

Missing in action

Why aren't many of Trump's supporters joining these two men? Won't it be interesting to see how the Supreme Court reacts should the case reach them?

We have to once again salute the Founders, who centuries ago imagined situations in which a chief executive might be tempted to accept favors emoluments from foreign powers with axes to grind.

And why, finally, haven't some of most resolute invokers of the Constitution condemned their president's brazen violation of that sacred document? Strict construction seems entirely appropriate here.

We have considerable proof of the idea that Donald Trump is a fabricator if not a prevaricator. For some time, we have seen irrefutable evidence that he is a scofflaw.

He has been unmasked long since as someone who respects little if anything about the rule of law and that he will invent justifications for any lawbreaking he wishes to pursue.

With one exception, his cabinet recently lined up to re-up their loyalty and allegiance. Only Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis seems to have found that a bridge too far. He declined to lionize Trump, offering instead his praise and support to the nation's armed forces in harm's way. Trump apparently noticed, with displeasure.

While all this fawning went on in the White House, foreign governments were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a night or two in the Trump post office.

An artist projected a protest on the front of the building recently. "Pay Trump Bribes Here" it said.

No wonder the president's budget-makers zeroed out money for the arts and humanities.

Some apparently worry that Trump might take try retaliatory measures against Maryland and the District by cutting federal funds that benefit those entities.

If that occurs, Frosh might have another lawsuit on his hands. The General Assembly recently granted him power and financial resources to oppose action detrimental to our state.


C. Fraser Smith is a writer in Baltimore.

Published: Mon, Jun 19, 2017