A select committee needed to investigate Trump’s possible Emoluments Clause violations

Over the weekend, the president sent a tweet designed to appease Chinese business interests over American ones, and one which has reverberated within the national security community and the business roundtable. In the process, he undermined a key campaign promise and reminded skeptics about his motives for serving the highest office in the land.

During the 2016 campaign, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE often bragged that he was the greatest negotiator and that he would use his prowess to benefit the American worker. But he managed to turn his shoulder on his campaign promises and the workers he sought to protect in one fell tweet when he proclaimed, “President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!” The decision to ease U.S. sanctions against ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications, is confounding at best and suspicious at worst.


The decision to ease sanctions against ZTE is confounding because it undermines American workers.  Throughout the campaign, Trump railed against Chinese industries for policies that undermined American interests. But when given the chance, he immediately capitulated to the Chinese government and rushed to exempt ZTE from the imposition of sanctions for doing business with North Korea and Iran. Sunday’s tweet makes clear that when their interests are directly in conflict, Trump favors Chinese workers over American workers. On Chinese state television, Trump’s reflexive appeasement was seen as an unqualified victory for the Chinese government and business interests.  Moreover, the decision is inconsistent with the longstanding tact of the U.S Intelligence Community which, in 2012, indicated that ZTE interferes with American innovation and technology and that ZTE cannot be trusted and poses a security threat to the United States and its systems. Trump’s rejection of the House Intelligence Committee’s report on ZTE, when paired with his long standing embrace of that same committee’s report absolving his campaign of colluding with the Russian government—even in the face of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s conclusion to the contrary—makes clear that at the very least that there is no intellectual coherence to the president’s words and deeds.

The decision to ease sanctions against China’s ZTE is also confounding because it occurs at the same time that Trump has vowed to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 nations, inviting a new episode of ratcheting sanctions and concomitant geopolitical turmoil. 

The ZTE decision also comes at the same time that the United States is negotiating with North Korea on the future of the Kim regime’s nuclear arms program. The U.S.’s efforts were dealt a blow this week when the Kim regime indicated that it would not attend a coming summit with the United States over Trump’s demand that North Korea disarm its nuclear program.  Kim’s announcement comes after two well-publicized meetings he had with the Chinese Premier, and come after the price of oil, gas and diesel has plummeted in the northern half of North Korea, a move attributable to Chinese efforts to overproduce the commodities and saturate the market, thereby driving down costs.  It is also no wonder that Kim’s retreat from his commitment to meet American negotiators comes after Trump’s capitulation on ZTE. China’s demand for relief for ZTE was widely known in China and throughout the trans-pacific region, including in North Korea too.  It is likely that Kim saw Trump’s reflexive capitulation and decided to leverage Trump’s weakness for his own ends. This is the art of Trump’s deal. 

Finally, the decision to withdraw from ZTE is suspicious, especially in light of widespread media reports indicating that after China received its favorable decision, China guaranteed a $500 million loan towards a construction project in Indonesia that would prominently feature Trump-branded hotels, residences and a golf course. This arrangement is yet another in a longstanding series of violations by the President of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.  

It is time for the Congress to thoroughly investigate the extent of the president’s business dealings and whether this country’s foreign policy interests are guided not by the national interest, but by the bottom line of the Trump Organization. All members of Congress took an oath to defend the Constitution, a document that anticipated the type of president this country must now survive. This is an Article I moment: it is time for my colleagues in the House and my friends in the Senate to reconsider its collective reticence to investigate and hold this president, and his conduct, to account.

Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeTexas House Dems ask governor to issue stay-at-home order Lobbying world House approves bill banning flavored tobacco products MORE represents the 18th District of Texas and is a member of the Judiciary Committee