Trump Empire Claims Tracking Payments Too Hard, Watchdogs Say Too Bad
"If there was any doubt about the president's utter contempt for the constitution, and for the intelligence of the American people, this new information lays it to rest," said former White House ethics advisor
Despite promising to donate whatever profits President Donald Trump makes from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury, it has been revealed that the president's real estate empire is actually not tracking those payments, which ethics watchdogs warn puts him in clear violation of the Constitution.
In fact, a pamphlet (pdf) created by the Trump Organization on foreign government patronage and shared with news outlets and Congressional lawmakers says it is "impractical" to "pu[t] forth a policy that requires all guests to identify themselves."
"To attempt to individually track and distinctly attribute certain business-related costs as specifically identifiable to a particular customer group is not practical," it states, "nor would it even be possible without an inordinate amount of time, resources and specialists, which would still be subject to some measure of estimation and cost allocation methodology."
"If President Trump believes that identifying all the prohibited foreign emoluments he is currently receiving would be too challenging or would harm his business ventures, his options are to divest his ownership or submit a proposal to Congress to ask for our consent."
—Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)
Rather, the document details how "the Trump Organization will rely on estimates and assumptions about payments from foreign powers at its properties. It will use those figures—in unclear ways—to calculate total profits from foreign governments. And from time to time, it will write a check for this amount to the U.S. Treasury," as Joshua Matz, attorney and publisher of the Trump watchdog website Take Care, put it.
The pamphlet was sent to the heads of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in response to a bipartisan request last month for information "about the implementation and timing" of Trump's highly-publicized plan to donate his contentious hotel profits.
Blasting the "glossy, eight-page pamphlet that contains a total of 40 sentences" as a "meager response" to the request, ranking committee member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter (pdf) to the Trump Organization on Wednesday declaring the president's plan Constitutionally problematic.
"Complying with the U.S. Constitution is not an optional exercise, but a requirement for serving as our nation's President," Cummings wrote. "If President Trump believes that identifying all the prohibited foreign emoluments he is currently receiving would be too challenging or would harm his business ventures, his options are to divest his ownership or submit a proposal to Congress to ask for our consent."
Cummings also demanded that the Trump Organization "comply fully with the [initial] request for documents" and submit to a committee briefing "on or before June 2."
Unnamed sources also confirmed to MSNBC that "Trump Organization employees are not soliciting information about whether reservations or business is from a foreign government." Consequently, reporters Ari Melber, Meredith Mandell, and Diana Marinaccio noted on Wednesday, "the company will be hard-pressed to meet Trump's pledge to donate foreign profits and could even increase its legal exposure."
Norm Eisen, the former White House ethics advisor and chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which is suing Trump over his ethics violations, said the document makes clear that Trump "is not even going to live up to the woefully deficient standard he announced.”
"This so-called plan is so full of holes it does not pass the laugh test," Eisen told the Washington Post. "If there was any doubt about the president's utter contempt for the constitution, and for the intelligence of the American people, this new information lays it to rest."
In his analysis on Thursday, Matz similarly declared the Trump Organization's accounting "shoddy enough to raise a presumption of inadequacy," but further explained why focusing exclusively on hotel profits is itself problematic. He wrote:
Hotel payments, after all, are merely part of a large network of illegal emoluments and presents centered around the Trump Organization. And as a quick Google search confirms, the Constitution does not prohibit only "any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, through his hotels, from any King, Prince, or foreign State." Instead—true to its exceptionally broad anti-corruption purpose—the Foreign Emoluments Clause reaches a wide array of "commercial, regulatory, licensing and investigatory contexts in which foreign powers can (and will) give the Trump Organization special treatment in hopes of influencing the President."
"I'd imagine," Matz continued, "that this scheme is the brainchild of the Trump Organization, not lawyers at the White House Counsel or [Department of Justice]. As a result, I can't help but wonder: at what point might one conclude that the Trump Organization is actively (and perhaps unlawfully) conspiring to facilitate and conceal unconstitutional conduct?"
And speaking at press briefing on Trump's conflicts of interest, Democratic lawmakers accused the president of "cashing in" on his office.
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) May 25, 2017
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) May 25, 2017