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Since his election two weeks ago a couple of stories have come to light of what we might call errors of judgment on Trump’s part regarding the relationship between his business assets and his new duties as President. First, there was the presence of his daughter Ivanka at a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Ivanka, you will recall, is being placed in charge of Trump’s businesses alongside her brothers Eric and Donald Jr. In that capacity her presence at this meeting was highly inappropriate. There are also reports that Mr. Trump used a congratulatory call with the President of Argentina to push for building permits for an office complex his company is currently constructing. Mr. Trump and Mr. Macri are apparently old friends and colleagues so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here, yet the optics aren’t that great. This is especially troublesome because of three words: The Clinton Foundation.
Conservatives and Republicans rightly excoriated the Clintons for the corrupt relationship that the State Department enjoyed with The Clinton Foundation during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure at Foggy Bottom. Donald Trump himself, rightly, made a big deal of this during the campaign. He needs to remove himself from the appearance of corruption so that his administration isn’t hamstrung by constant accusations of corruption from a hostile media.
Furthermore, as the Cato Institute points out, these small lapses in judgment by Mr. Trump become much more legally serious once he becomes President Trump:
In the text, the Emoluments Clause prohibits any Person holding “any Office of Profit or Trust” under the Constitution from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Immediately, it is clear that the text limits the clause to gifts from foreign governments and the officials.
The original public meaning of the clause also confirms this interpretation. Foreign kings and princes once gave lavish presents to American officials, for example, a diamond-studded snuff box given to Benjamin Franklin (then ambassador to France) by Louis XVI. The Framers were concerned that these gifts would corrupt our officials, and so they prohibited them.
The next relevant consideration is whether, if Trump’s businesses receive a “gift” from a foreign government, Trump himself may be violating the Emoluments Clause. There is certainly an argument for this, since he benefits from the gift, even if only by increasing the value of his brand and stock holdings.
Finally, what sort of things would be a “gift” from a foreign state? According to one report, Trump has already asked Mauricio Macri, the Argentine president, whether he would help with permitting issues that are holding up the construction of a major office building in Buenos Aires.
If such a deal was made, would the permit be a “gift” from a foreign state? Very likely. Valuable gifts from members of foreign governments need not come in the form of diamond-studded snuff boxes, they can certainly be building permits worth several millions of dollars.
Given how much Trump values his business empire and reputation the temptation to utilize his public position, even innocently, to affect this private empire will be immense. He should remove that temptation.
Furthermore, Mr. Trump has shown that he values the counsel of those close to him and above all that of his children. He should not deprive himself of the advice of a gifted woman like Ivanka or close confidants like Eric and Donald Jr. Their positions at the head of the Trump Empire would require that they be excluded from his Presidential inner circle. Mr. Trump deserves the counselors he wants to help him achieve the goals he has laid out.
Mr. Trump should put his assets in a blind trust for the duration of his administration. For the good of his businesses, for the good of the country and for the good of himself.