Based on the accumulation of his actions and statements, Mr. Trump apparently does not believe in the ancient adage, ‘It is better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and leave no doubt.’ Already this week, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has gone public with a very rare criticism of Mr. Trump’s uncivil and even malevolent comment about the non-partiality of the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals because the court recently ruled that Mr. Trump cannot legally take away immigrant rights to request asylum to enter this country.
It is often said by wise political analysts that the primary reason this country has lasted this long as a viable republican democracy is the constant working presence of an independent judicial system. Mr. Trump seems hellbent on either ending that process or at least seriously damaging it. He’s like the Bizarro comic book character for Superman—-an evil twin who is the exact opposite of the dependable man of steel.
Doubtless, that act will get more serious in the near future, and no, this is not a comment on the upcoming conclusions in the Mueller Report. Instead, my comment refers to the nearly invisible but steady march of legal danger for Mr. Trump under the emoluments clause issue. That is a part of the U.S. Constitution never really tested in court by any previous president. There are two emolument clauses. The first one, the Foreign Emoluments clause, is in Article I, Section 9. It says, “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
The second one is the Domestic Emoluments clause in Article II, Section 1. It says, “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”
These two clauses represent the anti-corruption statements in the U.S. Constitution for the POTUS. Mr. Trump is going to force the federal court, for the first time in this republic, to make a definitive ruling on what constitutes and what does not constitute an emoluments violation.
There are currently two live cases pushed forward recently on this combined issue. The first one is a lawsuit by over 200 democratic congressmen regarding Mr. Trump’s continued profiteering from the Trump International Hotel, located a few blocks from the White House. This case recently passed (first part of November) the ‘Who’s got standing?’ threshold, and is proceeding forthwith. The case is now essentially into the discovery phase, when all relevant information and documents can be ascertained, including all the hotel’s receipts, the guest lists, and how much money went directly to the Trump family. Emmet Sullivan, the U.S. Federal District Court judge in the case has ruled that 200 Democratic members of Congress have legal standing to sue President Donald Trump for allegedly violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution by doing business with foreign governments while in office. The emoluments clause bars presidents from accepting gifts from foreign and domestic interests without consent from Congress, and the Trump administration has never asked Congress for any such permission.
The second case has also overcome the Trump administration’s efforts to have it dismissed. The attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., filed the case claiming that Mr. Trump is daily violating the Constitution’s emolument’s clauses by improperly benefiting financially whenever foreign or state governments patronize the Trump International Hotel (including Saudi Arabia). It’s as if the president hung up a sign near the White House, “Open for Business. Bring Cash Only.”
For the American people, hopefully these suits end with public victories. American democracy and its integrity need to be saved!!
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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