Thursday, September 19, 2019

House Democrats shift focus to Trump corruption -- Sept. 19, 2019 column


The drive to impeach President Donald Trump is taking a turn. It’s emoluments time.

The House Judiciary Committee plans to meet Monday to investigate “Presidential Corruption: Emoluments and Profiting off the Presidency.”

This new tack comes with risk. Despite spending five months parsing special counsel Robert Mueller’s report about Russian influence in the 2016 campaign, House Democrats have not made their case for Trump’s impeachment to the public.

Only 37 percent of voters want Congress to begin impeachment proceedings, a Politico/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday found. Half of voters were opposed and 12 percent undecided.

Support is highest among the Democratic base but weak among independent voters, who the Democratic presidential nominee will need in 2020.   

House Democrats who back impeachment believe exposing Trump’s self-dealing – using his office for personal gain -- will gin up enough public support so lawmakers in districts Trump won will vote for impeachment.

Air Force flight crews have stayed at Turnberry, Trump’s resort in Scotland, on stopovers from the United States to the Middle East. Vice President Mike Pence stayed at Doonbeg, Trump’s resort in Ireland, even though it was across the country from his meetings in Dublin.

Trump touted his Doral golf resort in Miami for next year’s meeting of the Group of Seven world leaders.

“The public is starting to get the point that he’s been running the White House as a money-making operation for himself and his family,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the Judiciary Committee, told NBC’s Chuck Todd.

Trump’s presidency has introduced Americans to the Constitution’s three anti-corruption measures, the Emoluments Clauses.

The Framers used emolument to mean a benefit, gain, profit or advantage. At that time, foreign governments often gave lavish tokens of appreciation and friendship to diplomats, and the Framers wanted to limit foreign influence.

The Foreign Emoluments Clause in Article 1, Section 9 prohibits any person holding an “Office of Profit or Trust” from accepting “without the Consent of the Congress. . . any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind, whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

The two other Emolument Clauses concern domestic issues.    

There’s significant debate among legal scholars about what constitutes an emolument and whether elected officials, including the president, are covered by the clause, the Congressional Research Service said in a report last month.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has presumed the president is covered, and courts have come to the same conclusion, the report said. But there have been no definitive court decisions.

When President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, he donated the $1.4 million prize money to charity.

Trump refused to put his business holdings in a blind trust, as presidents for the last 40 years have done. He set up a trust run by his sons and a Trump organization executive and said he wouldn’t talk business with his family.

Trump also said he would not profit from foreign governments that use his hotels. He has donated about $351,000 to the U.S. Treasury to cover the profits, but as he has neither disclosed his record-keeping nor how he calculated the amount, Democrats say the figure is much too low.

Three major lawsuits claiming Trump violated the Emoluments Clauses are bouncing around federal courts, but the pace of justice is slow. Trump claims he is losing money as president, largely because of his legal bills to defend himself in the lawsuits.

“It’s probably costing me from $3 to $5 billion for the privilege of being – and I couldn’t care less – I don’t care. You know if you’re wealthy, it doesn’t matter,” he said last month.  

Again, Trump refuses to provide any documentation to back up his claims.
He also complained nobody investigated Obama’s lucrative book deal.  The former president and first lady Michelle Obama signed a joint book deal for $65 million in 2017 – after he left office.

“I got sued on a thing called ‘emoluments,’” Trump said.

Trump created his problems for himself by refusing to follow established presidential norms like blind trusts and disclosure of tax returns. Democrats smell smoke, but they must find the fire to make the case.

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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