Despite President Trump’s promise to donate all profits from foreign-government sources at his Washington hotel and other businesses, recently released internal documents reveal that Trump’s private company has made only a limited effort at identifying foreign funds.
An undated document sent throughout the Trump Organization, called “Donations of Profits from Foreign Government Patronage,” says asking guests whether they are connected to a foreign government “would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.”
“It is not the intention nor design of this policy for our properties to attempt to identify individual travelers who have not specifically identified themselves as being a representative of a foreign government entity,” the document says.
Keep in mind that Trump’s lawyer had promised that the president would segregate and donate foreign funds from hotel businesses so as to avoid violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Actually, she only promised to turn over “profits,” which might mean, for example, a hotel is bleeding money but the revenue he does have comes from foreign governments. “The initial plan was inadequate. After all the Constitution doesn’t say it’s OK to keep all foreign emoluments except for hotel profits,” explains ethics guru Norman Eisen. “If Trump had been serious he would have come up with a plan to segregate all foreign government revenues, not just profits, and in all of his properties not just hotels. But now it is clear Mr. Trump is not even going to live up to the woefully deficient standard he announced.” The burden is on Trump to identify the monies and to make sure no such revenue finds its way into his hands. That is what the Constitution requires, which is precisely why ethics experts cautioned that the only way to comply with the Constitution would be liquidation.
Indeed, Trump seems to be reneging on what meager promise he made:
The Trump Organization said it would track foreign-state money by reviewing three sources: direct billings to foreign governments; group, banquet, and catering business with foreign governments; and payments from a “reasonably identifiable foreign government entity.”
But that description was similarly loose. The company said state-owned and state-controlled entities in industries such as banking and defense “may not be reasonably identifiable” and would not be included in profit donations.
“This so-called plan is so full of holes it does not pass the laugh test. If there was any doubt about the president’s utter contempt for the constitution, and for the intelligence of the American people, this new information lays it to rest,” says Eisen. That may come in hand in the lawsuit he and others have brought against Trump over possible emoluments clause violations. Trump’s brief in that case due no later than June 9.
Aside from hotel receipts, foreign-government money from other things of value (e.g. trademarks from China, licensing deals, Ivanka Trump’s clothing company and other operations) may find their way into the Trump family coffers.
Interestingly, this comes at a time the House Financial Services Committee’s ranking Democrat, Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), along with the No. 2 Democrat and three subcommittee ranking members, wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The letter, dated May 23, asks Treasury to enlist FinCEN (the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) to determine whether the Russians have “undue influence” over Trump. They ask for a range of information, everything from loans made by Russian entities and Trump bank accounts in Russia to “names and identities of all parties suspected of engaging in money laundering through Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino Resort, which was the subject of a $10 million fine for significant and long standing anti-money laundering violations.” The lawmakers also ask for:
Any and all records relating to the Russian government’s involvement, including that of any Russian state-run corporation or bank such as Vnesheconombank (VEB), in any Trump-owned, -branded, -licensed, or managed hotels, casinos, golf courses or other properties or business enterprises.
Any and all records relating to a potential violation of U.S. sanctions, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or the Logan Act by President Trump, his businesses, his immediate family or his current or former associates, including but not limited to Michael Flynn.
Any “business rule” developed by the FinCEN to screen Bank Secrecy Act data to identify financial transactions involving Russian politically exposed persons, Russian individuals determined to have a high risk of engaging in bribery, corruption or money laundering and President Trump, his immediate family, or associates.
Perhaps these lawmakers can expand their request to countries in which Trump openly does business — getting records of loans, accounts, etc. It won’t completely cover the emoluments problem, but it will surely be useful.
Republicans, of course, want to do nothing, and thereby enable emoluments clause violations. Had they possessed the nerve to demand that Trump comply with the clause, it would not now be looming over him. If and when the House ever gets around to impeachment, any emoluments clause violations should be included in the list of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”