Trump request for personal favor from foreign leader violates emoluments clause
Foreign influence connects all the most serious allegations
American foreign policy should be run for the benefit of the country not the benefit of any individual government official. That is what fundamentally makes Trump’s request for a personal favor from the president of Ukraine wrong and criminal.
The Emolument’s clause of the Constitution was specifically written to assure this outcome. By outlawing the acceptance of gifts, emoluments (financial compensation) or titles, the founders hoped to prevent the case where American foreign policy comes to be influenced or even driven by foreign bribes to individual officeholders or the pursuit of such bribes.
But when the President denies military aid to a key ally who is being threatened by a longtime international rival of the US because he wants that ally to do him the personal favor of investigating one of his political enemies, foreign policy is, in fact, being driven by the pursuit of a bribe. That the bribe is not strictly monetary doesn’t matter. The outcome of this has been that our foreign policy goal of preventing Russia from violating the sovereignty of other states and further expanding into Europe militarily has been at least temporary undermined by the President seeking something he values for himself.
But it’s important to recognize that this is likely not the only instance. One wonders how much of our foreign policy is being undermined by similar types of actions given that it has now become commonplace for other countries to house their diplomats and other personnel in hotels owned by Trump. These countries haven’t housed their people in these hotels previously and therefore must think that doing so buys them some kind of influence with the president. What if they’re right? Is America’s foreign policy being determined or influenced by which country spends the most at the President’s properties? Does anyone believe that Trump doesn’t notice who spends the most at his properties?
And then there’s the question of Russia and why it so often appears that Trump is trying to help Russia achieve its foreign policy goals. Indeed, one of the two favors Trump asked of the Ukrainian president was whether he could provide information supporting a conspiracy theory — propagated by Russian state media — that would clear Russia of hacking Trump’s presidential rival Hillary Clinton in 2016 and instead blame the Democratic Party itself. Russia continues to deny it had anything to do with the hacking or any interference in the 2016 election and wants sanctions related to the accusation lifted. The conspiracy theory put forth is clearly an attempt to get that outcome and Trump is helping push it.
Trump has helped Russia in many other ways — lifting some sanctions, slow walking other sanctions, asking that Russia be brought back into the G8 and continually obstructing Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Why?
The fact that Trump has demonstrated a willingness to accept favors and support for his businesses from foreign countries and that he’s now also shown a clear willingness to change foreign policy in response to favors or to get favors, we must find out if other such bribes are influencing American foreign policy. It is therefore incumbent upon Congress to determine if there are any other gifts or favors to the president that have not been disclosed, especially any that may have been provided by Russia given how helpful Trump has been to that country.
That should now be the central focus of requests for Trump’s financial documents. Congress needs them to determine if Russia has provided financial incentives to Trump — either before the election or since — that would explain his solicitous behavior toward them. And we need general assurance that the President’s foreign policy isn’t being influenced by undisclosed financial gifts from foreign countries. The President has given us reason to wonder if this is possible and whether we can trust him on this.
We don’t have clear evidence on these things. But it should be clear now that the fundamental crime of Trump’s presidency is that he is working for himself and not the country. That is the core truth that needs to be the singular focus of the impeachment inquiry as it moves forward.