In the not-too-distant past, the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution was relatively obscure to the public. Donald Trump changed all of that.
As regular readers know, the clause prohibits U.S. officials from receiving payments from foreign governments. Traditionally, this hasn’t been much of a problem for sitting American presidents. During the Trump era, however, it became one of the Republican’s under-appreciated controversies.
While serving as president, Trump owned a hotel that sat roughly a half-mile from the White House, which hosted international officials with some regularity. As we’ve discussed, the result was a dynamic in which foreign governments spent quite a bit of money at a Trump-owned property, to the benefit of the then-American president and his private-sector enterprise.
The Republican had some vague understanding that the Constitution prevented him from receiving payments from foreign governments — Trump referred to the legal provision as “phony“ for reasons he never explained — but he did it anyway.
During Donald Trump’s presidency, the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, China and Malaysia spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at Trump International Hotel in Washington at the same time they were trying to influence U.S. foreign policy, according to investigative findings released Monday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
In one especially striking example, Malaysia was lobbying the Trump administration to drop an investigation into a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund that Prime Minister Najib Razak had co-founded. It was against this backdrop that Razak and his delegation, according to hotel receipts obtained by the House Oversight Committee, spent $259,724 at Trump’s hotel in 2017, including a $10,000 room and a $1,500 “Personal Trainer” for the prime minister, as well as $9,229 for “Coffee Break[s].”
It was around this same time that Trump welcomed Razak to the White House and publicly thanked him for “all the investment you’ve made in the United States.”
It wasn’t just Malaysia. From the NBC News report:
The Saudi Defense Ministry spent $85,961 during a one-week stay in March 2018, including renting several $10,500 suites, according to the Oversight Committee findings. The Saudi revenues for the Trump hotel came during a period when Saudi Arabia and the UAE were lobbying the Trump administration to support them during their blockade against economic rival Qatar. Qatari officials and connected companies spent at least $307,941 at the Trump hotel from late 2017 through mid-2018, according to the Oversight Committee’s findings.
It’s almost as if some foreign governments thought they might be able to curry favor with the White House by dropping off money at a nearby hotel owned by the then-president’s business.
The Trump Organization has denied any wrongdoing. Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the outgoing chair of the House Oversight Committee, nevertheless came to a different conclusion in presenting her findings to acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall of the National Archives and Records Administration.
“These documents sharply call into question the extent to which President Trump was guided by his personal financial interest while in office rather than the best interests of the American people,” Maloney said.
To date, congressional Republicans haven’t even pretended to care about any of this, even as they raise strange questions about whether the Biden White House has been “compromised“ by foreign business transactions.