Tag Archives: emoluments clause

Tax returns: the gift that keeps on giving

Tax returns have, um, returned to the top of our awareness.

Not my tax returns. Or yours. I refer to the president of the United States.

You’ll recall when Donald Trump stiffed 40 years of political tradition by refusing to release his returns for public scrutiny. He said dubiously that he was under audit by the Internal Revenue Service. That was more than two years ago! He still hasn’t released them. He is showing not a single indication that he’ll do so voluntarily.

Presidential candidates of both parties since 1976 have released their tax returns in the spirit of full transparency. Trump talks about being transparent, then hides his returns.

They’re increasing in relevance to what has developed. The special counsel, Robert Mueller, likely knows what is in those returns. He likely knows about whether the president has invested in “Russia matters.” He likely knows whether the president has benefited materially from his office, which could be in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, the part that says presidents cannot accept money from foreign governments.

We’ll know in due course whether Mueller has those returns. We’ll know also in due course whether the special counsel has anything incriminating regarding those returns.

The idea that Trump has refused to release those returns because of an IRS audit falls apart on two levels. First, he’s never produced any evidence that the IRS is even auditing his tax returns. Second, the IRS — which doesn’t comment on individual audits — has made it clear that an audit does not preclude any public figure from making those returns public.

My direct plea to the special counsel is this: Make those returns available to those of us who want to know the truth behind our president’s financial dealings.

‘The Fixer’ on the verge of inflicting serious damage

Michael Cohen is no longer Donald Trump’s “Fixer.” He’s now seemingly ready to inflict some serious, possibly fatal, damage to Trump’s tenure as president of the United States.

I’m still trying to figure all this out. It’s complicated, folks.

Cohen, the president’s former confidant and lawyer, has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings with Russia. They appear to be far more extensive than he told Congress. He spent 70 hours talking to special counsel Robert Mueller about all of this.

Trump’s response has bordered on hysterical. He calls Cohen a “weak man” and a liar. He says he was entitled to do business with Russia as a candidate for president, but said he didn’t do it . . . but that he wouldn’t have broken the law had he done so.

Meanwhile, the president is continuing his all-out assault on Mueller and his legal team that is examining alleged “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

Trump in trouble?

This is getting even messier than before, ladies and gents, if that is at all possible. It’s getting so messy that I am seeing some commentary from longtime Washington journalists and political operatives who suggest that “for the first time” they are wondering whether Trump will finish his term as president.

I won’t go there. I keep thinking about all the times Trump has avoided potentially mortal injury to his candidacy and then his presidency. He has wiggled free, largely owing to the devotion he still commands from his political “base” of voters and his Republican allies in Congress.

I guess we now might see just how devoted they all are if the evidence continues to pile up.

I have this sense that Robert Mueller has compiled a tremendous amount of evidence that is going to make the president’s life extremely uncomfortable.

So . . . the drama continues.

Presidency fattens POTUS’s wallet

I am acutely aware that I am not the first person to wonder aloud about this, but the president of the United States shouldn’t be fattening his personal finances because he happens to be the head of state.

The Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits presidents from using their high office to take money from foreign governments. It remains to be seen whether Donald J. Trump has violated that provision.

This business of continuing to enrich himself here at home is equally galling … to me, at least.

Politico reports: Political groups supporting President Donald Trump are doubling as big-spending customers for the business empire he has not divested from.

Trump’s reelection campaign has spent $670,000 at Trump properties since he was elected president, and $125,000 during the first three months of this year alone, recent disclosures show.

Trump didn’t do what previous presidents customarily do when they assume their office. He retained ownership of his business empire, but placed his holdings in a trust run by sons Don Jr. and Eric. The last businessman-turned-president, Jimmy Carter, turned his peanut business over to a “blind trust” when he was elected in 1976.

Trump does it differently. He is profiting nicely at his myriad hotels, resorts and assorted business sites because of the job he holds.

I have said for a long time, before Trump even was elected president, that he built his career with one goal in mind: to enrich himself. He has done that quite well.

What is most galling is that Donald Trump is continuing to fatten his wallet even while ostensibly “serving the public” as president of the United States.

It’s all about Trump. Sickening.

Maybe he could ‘shoot someone on 5th Avenue … ‘

It occurs to me that Donald Trump’s most hideous bit of campaign braggadocio just might have had more than a nugget of truth to it.

He once stood at a 2016 presidential campaign podium and declared he could “shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and I wouldn’t lose any votes.”

We laughed out loud. Many of us gasped in horror. Others of us simply shook our heads in disgust that a candidate for the presidency of the United States would actually say something so ghastly.

And, yes, others of us cheered him.

It is turning out that — maybe, possibly — that Trump’s boast might be more truthful than many of us thought in real time.

He’s got that “Russia thing” hanging over him. There are questions about whether his business dealings might violate the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Several women have accused him of sexual assault/harassment. Two women have alleged having sex with him while he was newly married to his third wife, the current first lady of the United States.

And still …

His core support remains solidly behind him. Granted the Trump “base” still comprises only about 35 to 40 percent of the total electorate. The rest of us remain highly skeptical, critical — and actually outraged — at the president’s conduct in office.

It’s looking for all the world to me, though, that he well might have spoken a bit of truth when he made the boast about “shooting someone on Fifth Avenue.”

Weird, man. Weird.

Hold up on ‘impeachment’ talk

Donald J. Trump may have committed a monumental mistake by divulging highly classified information to visiting Russian diplomats.

He well might have put some intelligence operations in jeopardy; indeed, let us pray we don’t lose any lives as a result of whatever he might have told the Russians who he welcomed into the Oval Office.

Social media are buzzing with talk about impeachment, that the president might have committed a treasonous act.

Let hold on here.

I detest Trump as much as the next guy. However, it’s good to realize that in order to be impeached by the House of Representatives and tried by the Senate, a president needs to commit a “high crime and misdemeanor.” Trump likely didn’t do anything illegal.

You can bet that he might have done something that is far more “careless” and “reckless” than anything Hillary Rodham Clinton did when she used her personal e-mail server while she was secretary of state. Did the president commit an impeachable offense?

It’s not likely.

Trump pops off

There well might be other grounds on which to impeach the president. I can think of obstruction of justice, for one thing, dealing with his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, who at the time of his firing was in the middle of an investigation into whether Trump had an improper relationship with Russian government officials.

The Emoluments Clause in the U.S. Constitution also might prove problematic for Trump as he continues to have interests in businesses that have dealings with foreign governments.

As outrageous as Trump’s relationship with Russia is proving to be, his reported carelessness with classified information doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment.

The founders set a high standard for such an action, although President Clinton’s impeachment did seem to stretch far beyond what one would constitute grounds for impeachment. Congressional Republicans hung their impeachment vote on the president’s failure to speak the truth under oath to a federal grand jury which asked him about his relationship with that White House intern; U.S. senators, though, acquitted him in the trial that ensued.

It’s good to scale back the impeachment talk regarding Donald Trump as it relates to this latest bombshell. What he might have done stinks to high heaven and there well could be blowback. Impeachment? It doesn’t appear to be a natural consequence of what the president might have disclosed to his Russian guests.

Trump launches potential war of attrition

I long have thought that every human being has a limit to the amount of emotional baggage he or she can lug around.

Accordingly, it’s fair to wonder just how much bedlam Donald John Trump can endure as he continues — in some form or fashion — to govern the United States as its president.

His first 100-plus days as president have been a stunning exercise in chaos, controversy and confusion.

It’s making me wonder — and I’m quite serious about this — whether Trump has the stamina to continue to function in this manner. My memory of presidential transition goes back to when John Kennedy took over from Dwight Eisenhower in 1961. No one has managed to create the number of firestorms so early in their presidency as the 45th man to hold that office. Not even Lyndon Johnson, who became president in 1963 in the midst of a horrifying national tragedy; or Gerald Ford, who ascended to the presidency in 1974 in the wake of a crippling constitutional crisis and scandal.

In a related matter, it’s also fair to ask just how much of this the public can withstand.

Just in the past week, we’ve seen the president fire the FBI director and ignite a political wildfire that continues to rage out of control. Trump cannot formulate a cogent message. His White House communications team is flummoxed hourly it seems by contradictory statements pouring out of the president’s pie hole.

How do they handle it? How can they withstand this level of chaos?

And I haven’t even mentioned what seems like an increasingly real possibility that we might have an impeachment process starting to take shape in the U.S. House of Representatives.

There might be an obstruction of justice charge leveled at the president over the threat he leveled at James Comey two days after he fired the FBI boss; Trump well might have sought to bully the FBI into backing off its investigation of the president’s campaign and whether it colluded with Russians seeking to sway the 2016 election.

Then we have the Emoluments Clause issue, and questions about whether Trump’s businesses have been enriched by contracts with foreign governments. The U.S. Constitution prohibits presidents from obtaining any such financial gain, yet the president continues to hold onto his worldwide business interests.

I suppose I could mention the continuing string of lies and defamatory statements he makes about his predecessor as president, the woman he defeated in 2016 and any number of individuals and organizations opposing him.

What happens, too, if he crosses yet another “red line” by restricting the media from doing their job, which the Constitution guarantees them the right to do without government interference?

Ladies and gents, we have elected someone who continues to demonstrate every single day that he doesn’t know what the hell he is doing. He is unfit for the office he holds. He is making a mockery of the presidency and, sad to say, of the greatest nation on Earth.

His legislative agenda — whatever it is! — is going nowhere. Jobs bill? The wall? Tax reform? Health care overhaul? How does he do any of it while the tempest over what the Trump calls “the Russia thing” continues to boil over?

Are you frightened yet? I damn sure am.

Trump Hotel poses potentially huge conflict for … Trump the POTUS

How in the world does Donald John Trump get away with this?

He serves as president of the United States. He continues to hold onto business interests, such as the Trump International Hotel, which plays host to foreign government leaders; those foreign governments spend money doing business at this hotel.

And the president somehow doesn’t violate the “emoluments clause” of the U.S. Constitution, the clause that says president’s cannot accept money or other inducements from foreign governments?

It’s an anti-bribery clause, in a manner of speaking.

Yet the president continues to dine there, which I suppose he is entitled to do. What is making my head spin is how this particular hotel can, in the words of The Hill, be the “go-to” place for foreign government dignitaries.

Isn’t the Constitution clear about this?

The emoluments clause is in the very first article of the Constitution. The founders were clear, I have thought, to prevent the president from doing any form of private business with any “King, Prince or foreign State.”

Let’s remember that Trump hasn’t divested himself of his vast business empire; he’s handed it all over to his sons

But as The Hill reports: “The hotel has been the go-to location for foreign leaders and dignitaries since it opened last fall, when Trump was still a presidential candidate.”

He’s no longer a candidate. He’s now the man. The president of the United States. Leader of the free world. Commander in chief. Head of state.

Unless he’s giving away all the services his hotel is providing those foreign “dignitaries and leaders,” it seems to me that he’s committing an unconstitutional act.

Trump feathering his own nest as POTUS

CNN just ran one of those “crawls” across the screen that noted the following: Donald Trump is spending his 10th consecutive weekend at a property that has his name plastered all over it.

The president greeted China’s president at Mar-A-Lago in south Florida. He ventured to one of the golf resorts that has the Trump name on it.

He’s been doing this repeatedly since becoming president of the United States on Jan. 20.

I know what the emoluments clause in the U.S. Constitution says about how presidents cannot take money from foreign governments. I also know that the president hasn’t divested himself of his many business interests, such as those ritzy resorts, hotels and such.

My question rests, finally, with this: Is the president fattening his own bank account when he visits these properties while attracting potential business to them?

Public vs. private interests have this way of conflicting with each other … or so one might believe.

Democrats to grass roots: Cool it with the ‘I-word’ talk

The “I-word” might be gaining some traction among rank-and-file Americans who profess worry — even fear — of Donald J. Trump.

Democratic Party officials are issuing a wise word of caution. Avoid the rush toward an impeachment of the president of the United States.

I happen to agree with the Democratic Party elders/wise folks.

Impeachment is a serious matter. It’s only occurred twice in the 228-year history of the Republic. The 17th president, Andrew Johnson, came within a single vote in the Senate of being tossed out; the 42nd president, Bill Clinton, was acquitted by healthier margins on all three counts heard during his Senate trial. A third president, Richard Nixon, was on the verge of being impeached before he resigned in disgrace in 1974.

Trump has stirred plenty of enmity during his single month in office. To suggest that he ought to be impeached is at best far too premature an act to even consider; at worst, well, it might be a fool’s errand.

As Politico reports: “’We need to assemble all of the facts, and right now there are a lot of questions about the president’s personal, financial and political ties with the Russian government before the election, but also whether there were any assurances made,’ said California Rep. Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. ‘Before you can use the ‘I’ word, you really need to collect all the facts.’

“’The ‘I’ word we should be focused on,’ added Pennsylvania Rep. Brendan Boyle, ‘is ‘investigations.'”

I happen to share the concerns of many of my fellow Americans about the questions that are looming large over the Trump administration. So soon after the president’s inauguration, Americans would be wise to give the guy some time to clear out some of the wreckage he has brought upon himself and his administration.

I want to offer a slightly conciliatory word here. Trump became president with zero experience in government. He hadn’t spent a single moment of his life in public service until he placed his hand on the Bible and took the oath of office of the presidency.

It might be too much to ask that a zillionaire businessman/TV celebrity could know all the nuance and complexity of forming a government as massive as the one he now commands.

He has made some remarkable missteps in just a few weeks on the job. He has said some amazingly stupid things and made some ridiculous gestures. Are any of them impeachable? No.

But he’s got this personal enrichment matter he must clear up. That “emoluments clause” that bars presidents from profiting from relationships with foreign governments is pretty clear. The president hasn’t done nearly enough to clear himself of that mess.

He had better get busy.

The fired-up grass roots Americans who are hell bent on impeaching the president had best listen to the political elders who know about these matters.

Their advice? Cool it.

Army secretary pulls out; business interests get in the way

Vincent Viola is worth about $1.8 billion.

He was tapped by Donald Trump to be the next secretary of the Army. Oops! He dropped out today, citing the difficulty of severing his business ties from his upcoming public service.

Hmm. That sounds a bit familiar, yes?


The president himself is reportedly worth a lot more than Viola. He, too, has myriad business interests. Some folks believe he might be violating the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against presidents taking money from foreign governments; it’s that “emoluments clause.”

If Viola couldn’t break his business interests loose in order to serve as Army secretary, how does the president of the United States make good on that requirement?

Just wondering … you know?