Opinion writer

Computer screens showing some of the Trump trademarks approved by China’s trademark office are seen on its website in Beijing on Wednesday. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday:

China has granted preliminary approval for 38 new Trump trademarks, paving the way for President Donald Trump and his family to potentially develop a host of branded businesses from hotels to insurance to bodyguard and escort services, public documents show.

Trump’s lawyers in China applied for the marks in April 2016, as Trump railed against China at campaign rallies, accusing it of currency manipulation and stealing U.S. jobs. Critics maintain that Trump’s swelling portfolio of China trademarks raises serious conflict of interest questions.

China’s Trademark Office published the provisional approvals on Feb. 27 and Monday.

This is all very peculiar, according to Dan Plane, a Hong Kong intellectual property consultant:

“For all these marks to sail through so quickly and cleanly, with no similar marks, no identical marks, no issues with specifications — boy, it’s weird,” he said.

Given the impact Trump’s presidency could have on China, Plane said he would be “very, very surprised” if officials from the ruling Communist Party were not monitoring Trump’s intellectual property interests.

This follows an earlier action by the Chinese government awarding a single trademark to Trump’s companies just days after Trump reaffirmed our “One China” policy after seeming to question it during the transition.

Ben Cardin (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has been bird-dogging Trump on emoluments, released a statement. “”This is an astonishing development. For a decade prior to his election as president, Donald Trump sought, with no success, to have lucrative and valuable trademarks granted in the world’s biggest market,” Cardin said. “He was turned down each and every time. The floodgates now appear to be open.” He added, “It’s clear to me that officials in Beijing have come to appreciate the potential return on investments for China in having a positive, personal business relationship with the President of the United States, who has not taken appropriate and transparent steps to completely sever his relationship from the corporation that bears his name.” He urges that “the State Department, the Commerce Department, and the Justice Department brief Congress, immediately, on these matters and on the potential Constitutional dangers that they present.”

That is an excellent suggestion, one that chairmen of the relevant committees should take. Moreover, as senators consider the nominations for deputy and associate attorney general, they should obtain pledges from the nominees that they will investigate and report back to Congress.

“The earlier, initial registration by China of a long-denied Trump trademark certainly seems to run afoul of the foreign emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits foreign government presents or benefits ‘of any kind whatever,” says ethics guru Norman Eisen, who has already filed one suit against Trump regarding his foreign conflicts. “Moreover, this new large group of 38 trademarks granted to Trump while he occupies the Oval Office raises similar concerns because of their unprecedented scope and scale.” He tells me, “I anticipate that these issues will enter into our litigation. When Trump is profiting from these valuable Chinese benefits flowing into him, how can we be sure he will advance U.S. interests in his engagements with that country, for example by staunching the flow of American jobs out from the U.S. to China?”

The next time any GOP senators or representatives face an interview or constituents at a town hall, they should explain how they can justify this conduct and why there has been no inquiry by Congress. The potential for foreign influence in our politics is not limited to Russia; it exists wherever Trump companies are doing business and delivering financial benefits to the president.