No person holding any office of trust shall, without the consent of Congress, accept any present Emolument of any kind whatsoever from any king, prince or foreign state.
The Emoluments Clause – Article 1 Section 9.8 of the Constitution – is clear and unambiguous.
It prohibits a person holding an office of trust, including the president, from receiving any Emoluments or earnings from a foreign government without the consent of Congress. The Emoluments Clause exists to prevent foreign governments from corrupting the loyalties of U.S. government officials.
The Emoluments Clause speaks to the maxim that a government official cannot well serve two masters and that all such officials, no matter how lofty their status or office, must be beholden only to the American people and not to foreign government officials.
It’s ironic that President Donald Trump claimed he was coming to Washington to “drain the swamp,” while ignoring he and his family’s own flagrant violation of the Emoluments Clause. Congress should not stand by idly while our Constitution is trampled upon by a president who considers himself, his family and his sprawling business empire to be above the law.
Exhibit A is the problematic flow of foreign government funds to the Trump International Hotel in the Old Post Office building – a few short blocks from 1600 Pennsylvania – that Trump leases from the federal government through the Government Services Administration (GSA).
Foreign governments, including Bahrain, Azerbaijan and Kuwait, have all held events at the president’s hotel. We know that many foreign dignitaries stay at the hotel, and that Trump’s company hired a full-time salesperson to solicit business from foreign diplomats. These facts alone undeniably prove a violation of the Emoluments Clause.
It’s why I joined my colleague Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.) in filing H. Res 437, a Resolution of Inquiry requesting certain documents and communications related to the lease of the Old Post Office building/Trump Hotel.
True to form, my Republican colleagues blocked our efforts seeking details of the lease and records of any profits from foreign governments – thereby refusing to fulfill the Constitutional duty they swore to uphold.
It is unfortunate for the American people that Congress would be complicit as President TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE – through his Trump Old Post Office LLC – flagrantly violates the Emoluments Clause. Moreover, Congress sits by passively as President Trump violates the clear and unambiguous terms of the Trump International Hotel lease agreement, which explicitly prohibits any elected official of the U.S. government from serving as a lessee or from obtaining any benefit that may arise from the lease.
The last time I checked, the president of the United States is an elected official.
The lease clause that prohibits the president from becoming the landlord was put there to prevent the president from acting for his own benefit rather than to benefit the interests of the American people.
We shouldn’t trust President Trump to be the tenant and his own landlord! That is exactly what Congress is allowing to happen. Congress must rise above partisan politics and fulfill its oversight responsibilities by conducting its own bipartisan and independent review of the lease agreement to determine whether President Trump is in violation of either the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution, or the clear and unambiguous terms of the lease.
Aggressive oversight is the only way to assure taxpayers that our president is not self-dealing, and that he and his family are not compromised by foreign officials looking to curry favor for themselves at our country’s expense.
The Framers of our Constitution intended the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of government to be co-equal, thus setting up a delicate system of checks and balances with each branch acting as a counterweight on the other.
When one branch fails to hold the other accountable, it places our democracy at risk. The stakes are too high for Congress to sit on its hands. The Constitution and the clear terms of the lease trump politics.
Rep. Johnson represents Georgia's 4th District and is ranking member of the Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, which conducts oversight of federal real estate programs and the Public Buildings Service (PBS) of the General Services Administration (GSA), the civilian landlord of the federal government.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.