No, Trump Did Not Violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause

CNS News | 6/13/2017 | Staff
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Early American presidents often owned businesses, which they kept operating even while in office. As Greg Jarrett notes, “The first five presidents were farmers and plantation owners who maintained their businesses while in office. Some of their crops, especially tobacco, were sold abroad to companies and foreign governments.”

So it is strange to claim that President Trump violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause merely by owning hotels and other business interests that are patronized by foreigners. Yet, as law professor Eugene Kontorovich notes, “earlier this year a group of law professors and prominent attorneys filed a lawsuit alleging that the Trump Organization’s hotel rentals to a Chinese state-owned bank—along with royalties on ‘The Apprentice’ from state television in countries such as Vietnam—violate the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause.”

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This odd reading of the Emoluments Clause is contrary to its historical understanding, notes Jarrett, since sales to foreigners by the Founding Fathers “were never regarded, even by their political opponents, as emoluments because they were unrelated to the holding of office.”

The framers of the Emoluments Clause were concerned about gifts to officials from foreign powers – such as the money France gave a British king to enter into a treaty ceding territory, and the pension it gave him that enabled him to avoid summoning parliament; and lavish gifts to diplomats by kings. There is little evidence that it was aimed at sales at market prices, even to foreign officials.

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Indeed, as Prof. Kontorovich notes, President George Washington even asked a British official to help find renters for his land: “On Dec. 12, 1793, Washington wrote to Arthur Young, an officer of the U.K. Board of Agriculture … The president asked for Young’s help in renting out his Mount Vernon lands to secure an income for his retirement. Not finding customers in America, he wondered if Young,...
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