Donald Trump is not even president yet, and he’s already flirting with impeachment. The Constitution doesn’t allow presidents to seek gifts from foreign agents. But the President-elect is giving no sign that he will stop doing just that.
The Washington Post reported that about 100 foreign diplomats gathered at Donald Trump’s hotel in Washington, DC Friday evening to “to sip Trump-branded champagne, dine on sliders and hear a sales pitch about the U.S. president-elect’s newest hotel.”
The tour included a look at the hotel’s $20,000 a night “townhouse” suite. Many of these agents said that they will accept the president-elect’s offer to do business because they want to win favor with the new leader of the United States.
The Post writes that Trump is actively soliciting business from agents of foreign governments and quoted some of the diplomats saying they intended to stay at the hotel in order to ingratiate themselves to the incoming president.
“Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’” said one diplomat from an Asian nation. “Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?’”
Journalists are not the only ones disturbed by this unprecedented move.
Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who previously served as chief ethics counsel to President George W. Bush told ThinkProgress in an email that “Trump’s efforts to do business with these diplomats is at odds with a provision of the Constitution intended to prevent foreign states from effectively buying influence with federal officials.”
Painter added: “The Constitution’s ‘Emoluments Clause’ provides that no person holding any office of profit or trust under the United States 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.”
And he diplomats’ efforts in seeking Trump’s favor by staying in his hotel “looks like a gift,” Painter said, according to ThinkProgress.
Trump’s pledge to separate his business from the presidency lasted two days. And with his kids running his company and transition team, there will be no wall between the Trump administration and Trump businesses.
As the report notes, the country has relied on internal safeguards within the executive branch and fear of political embarrassment to prevent violations by the president. And while it is conceivable that a rival hotel may have grounds to sue Trump for taking away its business with foreign diplomats in violation of the Constitution, it’s far from clear that any hotel business will want to risk a feud with the notoriously vindictive president-elect.
There is, however, at least one remedy under the Constitution for such a violation of the public trust by the president: impeachment.