Checks and Balances: Trump calls the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause ‘Phony’

By October 29, 2019 No Comments

By David DeAngelo
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writing

Recently, on a video forever archived and now easily found at C-Span, Donald J. Trump discussed his decision to hold the next G-7 summit at the Trump National Doral Miami and the criticisms that that decision triggered. During his late-October meandering rationalization, he complained, “You people with this phony Emoluments Clause.”

The statement itself raises a host of other questions. What, exactly, is this “Emoluments Clause”? Why is it important? And, finally, is the clause, in fact, “phony?”

The first thing we have to establish is that the clause is far from phony. It’s in the Constitution.

Right there, in Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8:

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 important words in this context are these: [N]o Person holding any Office…shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument…of any kind whatever, from any…foreign State. 

Now, we dig. But first, as Trump is the head of the GOP (the main conservative political party in the USA), we’ll refrain from using any left-leaning source material to explain the issue. And just as twitter retweets are not endorsements, our use of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, as a source is in no way a broader general endorsement of the foundation. At this point, the GOP is (ostensibly) a conservative political party holding (supposedly) conservative political positions (hey, how’s the deficit doing these days, guys?), we are simply using their own philosophical/political underpinnings to explore their dear leader’s “phony” charge.

On The Heritage Foundation’s website, after pointing out that Article VI of the Articles of Confederation is the source of the emoluments clause (indeed, they’re word-for-word matches), we find that:

The clause sought to shield the republican character of the United States against corrupting foreign influences. And: The delegates at the Constitutional Convention specifically designed the clause as an antidote to potentially corrupting foreign practices of a kind that the Framers had observed during the period of the Confederation.

The Constitutional Convention was looking to vaccinate the republic against, as one example, Louis XVI, who gifted visiting American diplomats with things like diamond-encrusted snuff boxes in order to gain some influence, or how, a century or so earlier in England, Charles II and most of his officers were actually pensioned by another King of France (this time, Louis XIV). 

Here is the issue: How can we trust our elected officials to do what they think is in the best interest of the country (even if we don’t agree with it) when they’re being financially compensated by a foreign power who may have different, competing interests?

No, the individual holding the office must be free from, as stated in The Federalist 73,  any “inducement to renounce or desert the independence intended for him by the Constitution.”

When Trump tweeted sometime later that his resort would not be used for the upcoming G-7, it was not because he accepted the validity of any “emoluments clause” criticism. Rather he blamed his political adversaries and of course, the media. He tweeted:

“Doral in Miami would have been the best place to hold the G-7, and free, but too much heat from the Do Nothing Radical Left Democrats & their Partner, the Fake News Media! I’m surprised that they allow me to give up my $400,000 Plus Presidential Salary! We’ll find someplace else!”

Before we go any further, Trump is wrong about his salary as Congress has no authority in changing anything about how or whether he gets paid. The same constitution that demands he not receive any emoluments also demands no changes in his salary. Article II Section 1 Clause7:

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. 

See? It’s his decision to give away his salary. He’s not giving it up in the sense of agreeing not to be paid. He gets paid and he gives away the same amount.

For example, how much money has made its way into the Trump Organization coffers from his many vacations?

NPR reported that $60,000 was paid just for the Secret Service expenses on just four trips to Mar-a-Lago in 2017.

So far he’s visited Mar-a-Lago about a hundred times. So if the 60K is a constant, that means the Trump Foundation has received about $1.5 million over the last three years just for Secret Service expenses from just one Trump resort.

So Trump giving away his $400,000 a year can’t be that big of a deal to him.

But let’s get back to the emoluments. During his now infamous telephone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, Zelensky said this to Trump:  

“I would like to tell you that I actually have a lot of Ukrainian friends that live in the United States. Actually, the last time I traveled to the United States I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower.”

You have to ask yourself, how many other world leaders have tried to bond with Trump same way? How much money have they poured into Trump International? How much were they trying to influence him?

How “phony” is the emoluments clause now?

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