For four years, President Donald Trump has treated the White House like the sales office of his business empire, steering official federal and foreign government billables to his properties, in blatant violation of the Constitution. A recent analysis put his income from this and other profit-making schemes in office at more than $8 million during his term. Trump is due to vacate the White House on Jan. 20, but the abuses he committed deserve ongoing scrutiny by members of Congress from both parties if they are truly committed to upholding the law.
Two clauses in the Constitution specify that presidents cannot accept things of value, beyond salary, from either the U.S. government or foreign governments. Taken together, these emoluments clauses are based on the simple, obvious premise that public servants acting in their official capacities should have no incentive or motive beyond doing their duty.
Trump, by far the wealthiest president ever elected, broke with long tradition from the start by refusing to completely separate himself from his vast business holdings when he took office. His vow to leave his sons in charge and stay out of any business decisions was never believable. Especially after he started monetizing the presidency for all it was worth.
In an extensive new analysis, The Washington Post charted the myriad ways Trump has done this. Much of the profit revolves around Trump's near-constant travel to and from his various properties, dragging along the necessary entourage of White House staff and security everywhere. One galling example: The Secret Service has paid $17,000 a month for months on end to rent accommodations for agents in Trump's club in Bedminster, New Jersey, even when agents weren't there, just so it would be ready in case Trump decided to go.
In typical fashion, Trump isn't giving the taxpayers a break on any of this but is instead putting his own interests first. The Post's rundown of a 2018 meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida is eye-opening: $13,700 for guest rooms, $16,500 for food, $6,000 for floral arrangements. It's part of a wider haul that has included, as the Post put it, "golf carts, votive candles, floating candles, candelabras, furniture moving, resort fees, decorative palm trees, strip steak, chocolate cake, breakfast buffets, $88 bottles of wine and $1,000 worth of liquor for White House aides." He has also profited from accommodations here and abroad for lobbyists, foreign dignitaries, even the U.S. Air Force. All of it billed to the taxpayers by Trump's properties — ultimately putting money in Trump's pocket.
Because the loot goes to Trump's businesses instead of directly to Trump, he may be able to claim technical adherence to the emoluments clauses. But that kind hair-splitting doesn't mean Congress can't ramp up the probes that have long been in place on this issue. It's past time.
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