Word Smith: Emoluments
Should the President be held to the standards established by the Constitution for business dealings with foreign governments that could create conflicts of interest with those entities? Also known as the Title of Nobility Clause (Article 1, Section 9), it prohibits the federal government from granting titles of rank and nobility, and restricts members of the government, including the President, from receiving gifts, emoluments, offices, or titles from foreign states, without the approval of the US Congress. It sounds as if Congress could approve such payments, but I am unclear as to where the line of influence is drawn.
So what are emoluments, anyway? Emoluments are any salary, fee, or profit that are received from employment or office. In the Constitution it seems that they refer to anything that could lead to corrupting foreign influences on members of government. The idea of cash changing hands, suitcases full of dough, wire transfers to private accounts in the Cayman Islands, shuffling among various Swiss bank accounts, and the like are the sort of chicanery from a Ken Follett, John Grisham, or Robert Ludlum novel. On a more serious note, could the money flow also be to convention centers, hotels, golf courses, and real estate holdings?
With the lawsuits recently filed by the Attorney General from Maryland and Washington, DC, the question is far from moot. The Attorney’s General feel that their states, cities, and companies are being harmed by the Trump organization, and by reference, the President. The question is whether the foreigner have undue influence over the President, or vice versa. These entities are booking Trump hotels in the District of Columbia and passing on other local conventions centers and hotels. The underlying Constitutional question may go all the way to the Supreme Court.
Stay tuned. This saga may be a knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish, before we see the end of the spats.