To start the week, let’s check out yet another way our unprecedented un-president* is cashing out his job like a third-rate carpet salesman in the Florida panhandle—which, come to think of it, is the kind of person that our unprecedented un-president* would stiff on a twenty-buck invoice. From the Guardian:
The so-called foreign emoluments clause was intended to curb presidents and other government officials from accepting gifts and benefits from foreign governments unless Congress consents. But in a forthcoming article in the Indiana Law Journal, the Washington University Law professor Kathleen Clark reveals justice department filings have recently changed tack. The new interpretation, Clark says, is contained in justice filings responding to recent lawsuits lodged by attorneys generals and members of Congress.
Clark’s article notes that in more than 50 legal opinions over some 150 years justice department lawyers have interpreted the clause in a way that barred any foreign payments or gifts except for ones Congress approved. But filings by the department since June 2017 reveal a new interpretation that “… would permit the president – and all federal officials – to accept unlimited amounts of money from foreign governments, as long as the money comes through commercial transactions with an entity owned by the federal official,” the professor writes.
That this considerable barbering of the Constitution went almost completely unremarked is an indication of how far into the septic tank this administration has sunk the news cycle. There is no question that, right from the convention in Philadelphia, the Founders were worried about foreign money corrupting the office, one of the very few things that most of them agreed on. Edmund Randolph, Jefferson’s fractious second cousin, told the Virginia ratifying convention:
There is another provision against the danger… of the president receiving emoluments from foreign powers…I consider, therefore, that he is restrained from receiving any present or emoluments whatever. It is impossible to guard better against corruption.
Edmund Randolph would have the president*’s guts for garters.
The Justice Department stance now closely parallels arguments made in a January 2017 position paper by Trump Organization lawyer Sheri Dillon and several of her law partners. On 11 January 2017, just days before he was sworn in, Dillon said Trump isn’t accepting any payments in his “official capacity” as president, as the income is only related to his private business. “Paying for a hotel room is not a gift or a present, and it has nothing to do with an office,” Dillon said.
They don’t even try very hard.
“For over a hundred years, the justice department has strictly interpreted the constitution’s anti-corruption emoluments clause to prohibit federal officials from accepting anything of value from foreign governments, absent congressional consent,” Clark told the Guardian. “In 2017, the department reversed course, adopting arguments nearly identical to those put forward by Trump’s private sector lawyers. Instead of defending the republic against foreign influence, the department is defending Trump’s ability to receive money from foreign governments,” Clark added.
I, too, get a little impatient with Founderphilia but, Lord above, I’m not going to trade their ideas for those of the pet lawyers for a Manhattan real-estate griftorama. And neither should the rest of us.