This is the tip of a very large iceberg -- the international Trump Organization with hotels, properties and licensing deals around the globe. How many other foreign countries engaged in similar conduct that would line the president’s pockets, or granted him things of value in their country (e.g. licenses, trademarks, public infrastructure improvements) that financially benefited Trump?
We don’t know, but the discovery phase of the litigation has commenced, so we may well get an answer to these and other questions. On Monday, a federal court ordered that discovery could not be delayed. (“The ruling on Monday allows the Attorneys General to begin both fact and expert discovery measures,” Jurist reports. “This includes, but is not limited to, sending out subpoenas for document production and potentially seeking witness testimony. As of Tuesday, multiple subsidiaries of the Trump Organization received subpoenas as well as numerous members of the federal government.")
This all comes as the president is furiously trying to maintain cozy relations with the Saudis in the wake of the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Post Global Opinions columnist. Is Trump acting because he believes, contrary to all available evidence, that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was not involved in the killing, or because he desperately wants to keep his business relationships with the Saudis going?
Now, you might think $270,000 isn’t a lot of money. However, The Post also reports: “Since February 2017, Saudi customers have boosted the bottom line at two other Trump hotels. In Chicago, the Trump hotel’s internal statistics showed a sharp uptick in customers from Saudi Arabia after Trump took office. In New York this year, the general manager of Trump’s hotel at Central Park said a single stay by some Saudi customers — who were traveling with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — was so lucrative, it helped the hotel turn a profit for the quarter.” And this just is one country at a total of three properties.
And if you think even a million dollars or so isn’t all that much for a billionaire, remember we’re talking about Trump here. Trump, former White House ethics counsel and co-counsel in the case brought by D.C. and Maryland, Norman Eisen reminded me, “once won Spy Magazine’s contest for the world’s cheapest celebrity by cashing a check for 13 cents.” Eisen muses that for “$270,000 he would do anything.”
Eisen says that foreign transactions such as these give us every reason to question whether everything from “his shameful embrace of the Saudi orb to allowing the Saudis to run amok in Yemen to turning a blind eye to MBS' role in that Khashoggi killing” has been influenced by monies flowing into his pocket. It is the concern that foreign bribery might be going on that prompted the framers to construct the emoluments clause. The court in the District/Maryland case previously ruled that bribery doesn’t need to be shown; the mere receipt of monies from a foreign state violates the Constitution.
There are now three separate lawsuits challenging Trump under the emoluments clause. (The District/Maryland and one brought by more than 200 members of Congress are the most viable.) “The three emoluments clause lawsuits hit Trump where it hurts the most: in his insatiable greed,” constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe says. He predicts, “The evidence they produce will cement the case that Donald Trump, in violation of his Oath, has been abusing his office in ways calculated to corruptly compromise his decisions about Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, and, of course, Russia and thereby giving ruthless foreign powers hidden leverage over him as president — something our Constitution was designed to prevent.”
Finally, thanks to the courts -- and maybe by virtue of a Democratic House majority with subpoena power -- we’re going to find out just how much money we’re talking about and just how many foreign conflicts Trump really has.
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