The Department of Justice (DOJ) claims President Trump can accept goods and services from foreign governments without congressional approval, despite the constitutional prohibition against U.S. officials’ acceptance of foreign payments or gifts without congressional approval.
In response to a lawsuit filed by watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW), attorneys for the group claim foreign officials are doing business with Trump properties as a way to curry favor with the president, Bloomberg reported.
The DOJ argued in a Friday filing that the constitutional provision, known as the emoluments clause, doesn’t apply to fair-market transactions, like hotel bills or office rent.
CREW is looking for U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams in New York to determine once and for all whether the president is violating the Constitution via his vast business empire. The DOJ’s motion on Friday sought to dismiss the suit.
The DOJ cited George Washington to support its claim that the provisions of the emoluments clause were “not designed to reach commercial transactions that a president (or other federal official) may engage in as an ordinary citizen through his business enterprises.” Washington, who left his business interests in the hands of his nephew upon assuming office, required weekly reports from Mount Vernon managers and responded with detailed instructions, the DOJ said.
“Neither the text nor the history of the clauses shows that they were intended to reach benefits arising from a president’s private business pursuits having nothing to do with his office or personal service to a foreign power,” the DOJ said in the recent court filing. “Were plaintiffs’ interpretation correct, presidents from the very beginning of the Republic, including George Washington, would have received prohibited ’emoluments.'”
Mr. Trump’s business empire continues to plague his presidency, despite Mr. Trump’s claim after winning the election that the president, “can’t have a conflict of interest.”
Before he took office, Mr. Trump promised his businesses would donate any proceeds from foreign governments to charity. But when pressed by those like Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings to explain how the president is fulfilling that pledge, the Trump Organization released a sparsely worded pamphlet that failed to describe how Mr. Trump’s companies are tracking and donating foreign payments.
But the pamphlet did reveal the Trump Organization is relying on foreign representatives to self-report to a Trump company if they are paying for something in their official capacity or if a foreign government is footing the bill. According to the Trump Organization pamphlet, “It is not the intention nor the design of this policy for our properties to attempt to identify individual travelers who have not specifically identified themselves as being a representatives of a foreign government entity on foreign government business.”
Cummings responded that he has “grave concerns” the president may be accepting illegal foreign payments.