As my high school teacher repeatedly admonished, you first have to define terms before engaging in debate. So, we shall.
According to an online dictionary, “emolument” means “a salary, fee, or profit from employment or office.” That seems simple enough.
In terms of the Constitution and the presidency, the person in the White House is barred from receiving “emoluments.” This is what the revered document has to say on that subject.
“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
The Founders referred to it as the “Nobility of Title Clause.” If you stick with the language, it is obvious that those enacting the Constitution were most concerned with folks serving in ANY public office being coopted by a “King, Prince, or foreign state” through the granting of titles, offices, presents or … that funny word, emoluments. It says nothing about receiving things of value – including a business purchase – that is within the United States. You know … from folks who are NOT kings, princes or foreign governments.
It seems to apply to any American who holds “any Office of Profit (paid) or Trust (pro bono).” That seems to include every state and local official in addition to federal officials—not only elected and paid, but those volunteering on all sorts of boards and commissions seem to be covered.
Contrary to the Democrats political interpretation, the Title of Nobility Clause does not preclude our public officials from having successful businesses before, after and even during their tenure in office. They are barred from accepting bribes or anything of value in return for an official vote or decision. And in such cases, there has to be a direct relationship between the “gift” and the public official’s action. There is no evidence that Trump is basing his decisions as President by who is staying at his properties.
If the Founders had intended that every officeholder – and especially the President – had to divest themselves of all private business interests – they would ALL have been in violation of the Clause. When George Washington was President, he still owned his slaves and a working farm – and he occasionally travelled back to Virginia to tend to it. That would be like Trump spending a few days each month at his old office in the Trump Organization.
Public officials have businesses was the standard practice at the time the Title of Nobility Clause was drafted – and many of our colonial leaders were doing business or selling crops to foreign governments while they were in office. Surely, the Founders did not mean for that Clause to put them all out of business. You need to recall that they viewed public office as a temporary service by people from all walks of life – people who had and needed income from their businesses. The Lincoln law firm did not cease to exist when he was President.
Perhaps the most egregious offenders – if it is, indeed, and offense – are all those congressional lawyers whose law firms still promote them as ex officio, emeritus or “of counsel” on the letterheads – even as they do business with foreign governments and enterprises. Many local officials with law firms are still running them. If you check out those so-called “politically connected” law firms, you will find that they are raking in millions from foreign interests. How about a Citgo (Venezuelan) gas station seeking a zoning change in Chicago? Or a French company needing permits to build a high-rise in New York?
If there was ever a case in which the Title of Nobility Clause had any justification, it might have been in conjunction with the Clinton Foundation, which was receiving millions upon millions of dollars from foreign states when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State and a prospective future President. Those were blatant efforts to buy access and influence. If you disagree, just check out the donations to the Foundation AFTER Hillary lost the presidency and her husband’s major cling to fame was his association with pedophile Jeffery Epstein.
President Trump is not running his business – nor is he taking a salary from it. It is NOT an emolument if some foreign business group stays at his Trump Tower in Washington at normal rates – which are normally very high – any more than if Washington – George, that is –had shipped some tobacco from his farm to France.
It is not a violation of the intent of the Title of Nobility Clause to have a bunch of American servicemen stay at a fancy resort in Scotland at below-market prices. Why force these men and women serving the nation to double up at Motel 6? It is our tradition to give service personal discounts and even freebies.
It is a good practice for our public officials to refrain from taking things of value from anyone – not just kings and princes – but that does not apply to businesses that provide legitimate goods and services to the general public.
The Democrats can make a political issue of all this because they know they will get the support of much of the elitist anti-Trump media to assist in misinforming the public. They can even take the President to court to create yet another phony dog-and-pony show. BUT when the dust finally settles, Trump will win because the Democrats are just wrong on this one. The Title of Nobility Clause has never been invoked in its more than its 130 years.
So, there ‘tis.