U.S. Constitution – Emoluments Clause

What is the Emoluments Clause?

The emoluments clause, also called the foreign emoluments clause, is a provision of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8) that generally prohibits federal officeholders from receiving any gift, payment, or other thing of value from a foreign state or its rulers, officers, or representatives. The clause provides that: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.

March 5, 2019
‘It’s Almost Like They’re…Bribing Him’: T-Mobile Increased Trump Hotel Spending While Waiting on Merger Approval

Mobile communications provider T-Mobile acknowledged to Congress that while they had barely used the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. prior to their announcement of a deal to merge with Sprint, this changed significantly after the deal was made. This garnered attention, given that the proposed merger between the competitors has to be approved by the Trump administration.

According to the Washington Post,  T-Mobile USA’s vice president of federal legislative affairs Anthony Russo provided details of this in a letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal(D-Wash.). Before announcing the Sprint merger, T-Mobile had barely used the Trump hotel in D.C. at all. Two different executives had spent one night there each in 2017.

Since the April 29, 2018 announcement, the company’s executives had made reservations for at least 52 nights at the hotel, including from nine executives the day after the announcement was made.

Russo’s letter said that the company spent roughly $195,000 on “meeting space, catering, business center services, audio/visual equipment rental [and] lodging.”

This amount is only 14% of what the company spent on hotels in the area during that time frame, but it was enough for Democrats to take notice and voice concerns, since Trump administration officials (specifically those in the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice’s antitrust division) are currently reviewing the T-Mobile-Sprint deal before deciding whether or not to approve it. If it goes through, it would reduce the already small number of options when it comes to major cell service providers in the country.

“The American people deserve better than an administration that appears to be for sale to businesses eager to line the President’s pockets,” Warren and Jayapal said in a joint statement.

The Trump hotel has been at the center of concerns and even lawsuits based on allegations that it has been used as a means for various parties to curry favor with the president. Whether the T-Mobile expenditures violate the foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution could become an issue, as the German government owns a minority stake in Deutsche Telekom AG, of which T-Mobile is a subsidiary. Either way, it has raised suspicion of a more commonly known offense.

“It’s almost like they’re …. what’s the word I’m looking for… bribing him,” national security attorney Bradley P. Moss said in a Tuesday morning tweet. Moss elaborated in an email to Law&Crime, where he noted that even if courts rule that such use of Trump’s businesses is legal, the situation presents a question of ethics unlike anything the country has seen before.

“It remains an enduring part of the Trump presidential experience that domestic corporations and foreign governments have continued to suddenly decide to significantly increase the amount of time and money they spend at Trump properties,” Moss said. “Whether it is ultimately deemed unlawful as a constitutional or statutory matter is a matter for the courts to resolve, but it is a moral and ethical problem without modern precedent.”   Source

January 16, 2019
Federal Watchdog Finds Government Ignored Emoluments Clause With Trump Hotel

Officials leasing the Old Post Office Building for the Trump International Hotel in Washington improperly ignored the Constitution’s anti-corruption clauses when they continued to lease the government property to President Trump even after he won the White House, according to an internal federal government watchdog.

The Inspector General for the General Services Administration, the agency that leased the building to Trump in 2013, said in a report published Wednesday that agency lawyers decided to ignore the constitutional issues when they reviewed the lease after Trump won the 2016 election.

“The GSA Office of General Counsel recognized that the President’s business interest in the lease raised issues under the U.S. Constitution that might cause a breach of the lease, yet chose not to address those issues,” said Inspector General Carol F. Ochoa. “As a result, GSA foreclosed an opportunity for an early resolution of these issues and instead certified compliance with a lease that is under a constitutional cloud.”

Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization has responded to interview requests.

“Today, the GSA OIG confirmed what we all knew: The Trump Administration is in violation of the Emoluments clauses of the United States Constitution,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., in a statement. “GSA’s decision to not consider whether the President’s business interest in the Old Post Office lease might be unconstitutional has enabled the President to line his pockets.”

Apart from the constitutional issues raised by Trump’s stake in the hotel, the building’s lease states that no “elected official of the Government … shall be admitted to share any part of this Lease, or any benefit that may arise therefrom.” Trump’s attorneys have argued that didn’t apply since he signed the lease before he was elected.

The emoluments clauses have produced several lawsuits during Trump’s presidential tenure. One of the lawsuits advancing through the legal system is from the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, who argue the hotel enables Trump to profit illegally off his presidency. Subpoenas in that case went out last month, but Justice Department lawyers are asking an appeals court to block the lawsuit.

“If ’emoluments’ include an official’s gains from private business activities, the President’s interest in the lease raises at least potential constitutional issues. The Foreign Emoluments Clause becomes relevant if the hotel receives payments from or on behalf of foreign governments, or a foreign instrumentality, when its representatives stay or hold events at the hotel or otherwise use its services,” the inspector general’s report finds. “The Presidential Emoluments Clause becomes relevant if the United States or a State of the United States similarly pays for the use of the hotel’s services, or if Tenant receives other benefits from the government related to the hotel.”

The GSA inspector general recommends a legal review of the lease but stops short of suggesting it should be canceled.

Responding to the report, GSA General Counsel Jack St. John wrote in a memo that GSA made sure its contracting officer was allowed to make an impartial decision. He said the probe “found no undue influence, pressure or unwarranted involvement of any kind by anyone, including the Executive Office of the President and the Office of Management and Budget.”

Steven Schooner, a professor of government procurement law at George Washington University, said it is unclear what effect the IG report will have. He told NPR the inspector general acknowledged GSA should have “done something, anything, other than pretend that one of the most high-profile, problematic, festering conflicts of interest imaginable did not exist.”

The Trump hotel has long been the center of scrutiny, as lobbyists, conservative allies and foreign officials frequently hold events there, raising questions about whether they are using the president’s business — which he still profits from — as a way of currying favor with his administration.

In two prominent cases of possible emoluments issues, the government of Saudi Arabia rented 500 rooms at the hotel early in 2017, housing and feeding U.S. veterans who had been recruited for a pro-Saudi lobbying campaign. And later that year, Maine’s then-Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, spent four nights at the hotel; he was in D.C. lobbying the Trump administration to rescind a national park designation in Maine.

Washington Post story published Wednesday found that T-Mobile booked several rooms at the hotel for its top officials as they were seeking Trump administration approval of its $26 billion merger with Sprint.

And the historic clock tower in the building has remained operational with rangers from the National Park Service staffing it even as most other such historic sites have been shuttered during the continuing partial government shutdown.    Source


Encyclopedia Britannica
What is the Emoluments Clause?

The emoluments clause, also called the foreign emoluments clause, is a provision of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8) that generally prohibits federal officeholders from receiving any gift, payment, or other thing of value from a foreign state or its rulers, officers, or representatives. The clause provides that: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 Constitution also contains a “domestic emoluments clause” (Article II, Section 1, Paragraph 7), which prohibits the president from receiving any “Emolument” from the federal government or the states beyond “a Compensation” for his “Services” as chief executive.

The plain purpose of the foreign emoluments clause was to ensure that the country’s leaders would not be improperly influenced, even unconsciously, through gift giving, then a common and generally corrupt practice among European rulers and diplomats. An early version of the clause, modeled on a rule adopted by the Dutch Republic in 1651 that forbade its foreign ministers from receiving “any presents, directly or indirectly, in any manner or way whatever,” was incorporated into the Articles of Confederation (1781) as Article VI, Paragraph I: Nor shall any person holding any office of profit or trust under the United States, or any of them, accept any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any King, Prince or foreign State; nor shall the United States in Congress assembled, or any of them, grant any title of nobility.

All but the prohibition of titles of nobility was dropped from the initial draft of the Constitution but eventually restored at the request of Charles Pinckney, who argued at the Constitutional Convention for “the necessity of preserving foreign Ministers & other officers of the U.S. independent of foreign influence.” The final text of the clause included a provision that permitted acceptance of foreign gifts with the explicit approval of Congress, perhaps reflecting the awkward experience of Benjamin Franklin, who as American minister to France had been presented with a bejeweled snuff box by Louis XVI and, not wishing to offend the king, asked Congress for permission to keep it (permission was granted).

Although there has been some debate regarding the exact meaning and scope of the foreign emoluments clause, nearly all scholars agree that it applies broadly to all federal officeholders, appointed or elected, up to and including the president. That interpretation is supported by the historical record, such as it is, of the Constitution’s drafting as well as by the past practice of presidential administrations and Congresses. Thus Edmund Jennings Randolph, one of the Framers, remarked at the Virginia ratifying convention that the clause protected against the danger of “the President receiving Emoluments from foreign powers,” even asserting that a president who violates the clause “may be impeached.” There was no recorded dissent from Randolph’s view. From at least the early 19th century, presidents who were offered gifts by foreign states routinely requested Congress’s permission to accept them, and foreign rulers were politely informed (sometimes by the president himself) of the constitutional restriction regarding gifts. (The sole exception seems to have been George Washington, who accepted a print from the French ambassador without consulting Congress.)

The foreign emoluments clause also broadly encompasses any kind of profit, benefit, advantage, or service, not merely gifts of money or valuable objects. Thus, it would prohibit a federal officeholder from receiving special consideration in business transactions with a foreign state (or with a corporation owned or managed by a foreign state) that gave the officeholder a competitive advantage over other businesses. Arguably, as the legal scholar Laurence Tribe and others have suggested, the clause would forbid even competitively fair transactions with foreign states, because the profit accruing to the officeholder would fall within the ordinary meaning of “emolument,” and because such arrangements would threaten exactly the kind of improper influence that the clause was intended to prevent.    Source

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