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Trump World Tower stands next the United Nations in New York. Reuters reported Thursday that under the Trump administration, the State Department has allowed several foreign governments to rent apartments in the building, a potential violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause. (Photo: Antoine 49/Flickr/cc)

President Accused of 'Another Blatant Violation' of Constitution Over Reports Foreign Officials Rented Luxury Condos From Trump

"Unless Congress impeaches him, he'll do anything he wants."

Julia Conley

A government watchdog said Thursday that it was investigating reports that the Trump administration had allowed at least seven foreign governments to rent luxury condos at a building owned by President Donald Trump—a possible violation of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause.

Reuters reported that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, the European Union, and three other foreign countries had been permitted by the State Department to rent or renew leases in Trump World Tower, a residential building which stands next to the United Nations in New York, in the first eight months of Trump's presidency.

The tower is owned by the Trump Organization, the president's real estate business, from which he refused to divest when he took office—instead handing over control to his two eldest sons and maintaining access to its funds.

The president earned $15 million in 2017 from the Trump Organization-owned company which manages Trump World Tower, according to Reuters.

"We're demanding answers from the State Department about the decision to allow foreign governments to rent condos from the Trump Organization without congressional approval," tweeted American Oversight, an ethics watchdog which launched two months into Trump's term.

In March, the group sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the State Department asking for all communications regarding foreign government leases since Trump won the 2016 election.

The request followed intensifying concerns among ethics experts over Trump's potential violations of the Emoluments Clause, which states that a president cannot accept gifts or payments from foreign governments—violations that could create major conflicts of interest when the White House is negotiating foreign policy.

Other critics on social media also raised alarm about the latest evidence that the Trump administration has taken payments from foreign powers, with some arguing the ongoing questions about emoluments constitute an impeachable offense.

Reuters' reporting comes two days after a federal judge ruled that an emoluments lawsuit filed in 2017 by more than 200 congressional Democrats can proceed. The Trump administration argued that the Constitution only prohibits payments to a president from foreign governments if they are made specifically in exchange for Trump's actions as president.  

"That literal reading seems like a pretty naive understanding of how influence and corruption are carried out," wrote Elliot Hannon at Slate this week.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan dismissed Trump's argument as "unpersuasive and inconsistent."

Along with government watchdogs like American Oversight and Citizens for Responsibility in Washington (CREW), the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has for months demanded documents and information related to foreign governments' payments to the Trump Organization.

"This new information raises serious questions about the President and his businesses’ potential receipt of payments from foreign governments,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the Oversight Committee, told Reuters. "The American public deserves full transparency."

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