Politics

It’s not corruption if it’s just a stop along the way

People say, “If they were going by anyway, what’s wrong with them staying at Turnberry?” If you can’t quite put your finger on the fallacy, this article may help.

Briefly, the Air Force has been staying at the Trump Turnberry Golf Resort (1) in Scotland on their way to parts unknown. Some people, mostly Republican members of Congress, do not see anything wrong with that. On the contrary, prohibiting arrangements such as these are at the heart of the ‘Emoluments Clause’ in the Constitution.

Why? Well, it makes us wonder how many other secret streams of revenue run into the Trump troughs.* For how long were they running? Did the Air Force stay at Turnberry before Trump was President? If so, we should have known that before someone elected him.

Without further ado, from the primary source.

Last week’s revelations that the military has spent millions propping up President Donald Trump’s Scottish resort and the failing airport that provides primary access to it represent more than just additional Trumpian schemes to debase the presidency for personal enrichment. (2)

The domestic emoluments clause … is indeed the core anti-corruption and anti-profiteering clause of Article II. For the Framers, the danger of a president being unduly influenced by some subgroup of the country or using the office to drink at the public trough was no trivial matter, as they’d long watched the English king loot the Treasury and likewise corrupt Parliament and colonial governors, making reciprocal financial inducements the coin of the realm. (id.)

Emblematic of the depth of this concern, the domestic clause is absolute in character — without the foreign clause’s contingent exception for congressional consent — and expressly forbids even Congress from adjusting the president’s salary during his tenure or permitting him to accept any additional sum from any source. (id.)

“The president’s resorts are hotels that he owns. And people are traveling. It’s just like any other hotel. I know people will look at it. I don’t know that that’s different than anything else. Is it different than if I go and stay or eat at a Marriott here or eat at the Trump?”

Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the House of Representatives and 2 heartbeats away from the Presidency. (1)

Such an explanation ignores reality. The president’s hotels aren’t just any hotels. Trump the businessman and Trump the politician are the same, and Trump refuses to do much to extricate one persona from the other. (id.)

Though he transferred management responsibilities of the Trump Organization, which runs the hotels, to his sons when he was elected, he didn’t divest from the company. That means when someone stays overnight, or books an event, or buys a meal at a Trump property, Trump still stands to reap some of the profit. That’s true if the one picking up the tab is a private citizen, a campaign organization, a foreign government or company or the U.S. government.(id.)

And they all have.

The Washington Post reported in June that White House aides pushed back on his extensive use of Trump properties to facilitate official business. Here’s what my colleagues found then:(id.)

Trump has rebuffed such warnings, overruling a recommendation that he not visit his Turnberry golf club in Scotland last summer, according to aides. And in recent months, he has scheduled even more detours from official trips to visit his businesses — golf courses in Ireland, Los Angeles and Doral.(id.)

In all, his scores of trips have brought his private businesses at least $1.6 million in revenue, from federal officials and GOP campaigns who pay to go where Trump goes, according to a Washington Post analysis. (id.)

The actual amount of money Trump has received as a result of his visits and campaign events is probably much higher than the $1.6 million The Post identified. That’s because most of the records available about government spending date to the first half of 2017 — covering just the first few months of Trump’s presidency so far. And the records of campaign spending don’t account for other revenue that Trump may have made off campaign events, including overnight stays by donors attending the event.

This past weekend, Politico reported that the Air Force has been refueling at airports near Trump properties rather than military bases, and in at least four instances, crews have stayed at a Trump property. That revelation has prompted a House Democratic investigation. And on his recent trip to Ireland, Vice President Pence stayed at a Trump property 180 miles from Dublin, where all his meetings were held. Wapo

Trump himself has gone hundreds of miles out of the way to go to his resort in Ireland while visiting two entirely different countries, Britain and France. Wapo

And Trump recently said that when it’s the United States’ turn to host the Group of Seven global summit next summer, it will probably be held at his struggling resort in Doral, Fla., despite lawsuits about bedbugs and the fact that it will be hurricane season then. Wapo

McCarthy is saying that all these visits are totally fair and nothing to be concerned about. “If it’s in the process,” he finished, “they can stay there.” Wapo

The problem with McCarthy defaulting to “the process” to defend what’s happening is that there is no “process” for when a president is also a businessman who hasn’t divested from his business. Wapo

There’s no modern-day protocol for this. Trump isn’t required by law to divest, even though most ethics experts agree that he should have; when he became president, the Office of Government Ethics highly recommended it. Instead, Trump handed over the day-to-day running of his business to his sons and told Americans to trust him that he wouldn’t talk about it, therefore avoiding potential conflicts of interest. Wapo

A Post analysis has found that Trump’s businesses have been declining in recent years, with a few notable exceptions. Some Trump-branded hotels have cut ties with the president and even taken his name off their properties since his election, but the Trump hotel in Washington started making a profit after he took office. It’s blocks from the White House. Wapo

Saudi government and business executives have boosted Trump’s hotels in Chicago and New York, a fact that became more conspicuous after Trump’s refusal to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the death of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. (Senate Republicans rebuked Trump’s handling of this and even essentially accused Trump of covering up Mohammed’s involvement.) Robert De Niro held an anti-Trump rally outside Trump Tower in New York. Wapo

Republicans may not have an answer for why the government under Trump is spending lots of money at Trump properties. But they’ll probably have to talk much more about it: House Democrats are wrapping this issue into their impeachment inquiry. Wapo

Author’s Note: I did not want to take the time to create transitions between the paragraphs. This article is nearly all verbatim from Slate and the Washington Post. Please see links.

(1) https://www.turnberry.co.uk/

(2) https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/09/trump-turnberry-domestic-emoluments-clause.html Laurence Tribe

(3) https://beta.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/09/10/kevin-mccarthys-bad-defense-government-officials-stays-trump-hotels/


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