Ethics Lawyers See Conflict Of Interest In Trump’s Business Dealings
Jan 20, 2017 09:44 AM EST
As the inauguration draws near, lawyers are quick to analyze Donald Trump's business dealings as a subject for a potential conflict of interest. Whether the billionaire businessman is going to violate the Constitution if he continues doing business with companies controlled by foreign governments, is now one of the most talked about topics in law.
Noteworthy, there is an obscure provision in the Constitution that most law professors barely look at and that is the Emoluments Clause. Emolument is defined by Merriam-Webster as "the returns arising from office or employment usually in the form of compensation or perquisites." The clause can be found in Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution sought to shield the republican character of the United States against corrupting foreign influences. The clause has been interpreted as anti-bribery provision by constitutional scholars, NPR reports.
Ethics lawyers Norm Eisen and Richard Painter, who served President Obama and President Bush, respectively, speak out publicly of the issue at hand. Eisen noted that a president is not permitted to receive cash and other benefits from foreign governments and yet Trump's companies deal with businesses that are controlled or influenced by such. Indeed there is a potential ground for constitutional violations.
But the problem is, what constitutes violation of the Emolument Clause? At present, there is no case law on the subject, thus legal experts rely on scenarios. According to Painter, a bunch of diplomats from a foreign country can stay at Trump International hotel in Washington, D.C. This scenario could be interpreted as services rendered by Trump. Under the Emoluments Clause, he can't enrich himself from those rendered services.
Further, the clause states that the Congress has the power to consent to any business dealings that raise heads. Eisen is doubtful that the Congress will intervene as it is in the hands of the same party as the White House. Trump, on the other hand, claims no conflict of interest as he pledged to clarify his business dealings. But what he actually is referring to are the federal conflicts-of-interest law that covers Cabinet secretaries and not presidents.
Meanwhile, Painter suggested that Trump can avoid violations of the Emolument Clause by liquidating his stake in his company. This would mean taking the company public, sell all of his shares and put the cash proceeds in a blind trust. In such way, he can be cleared of any conflict of interest.