The memorandum released Wednesday detailing President Donald Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky included a comment from Zelensky that anti-corruption watchdogs called clear evidence of the constitutional violations they've warned about since before Trump took office.
"This kind of casual corruption is an inevitable outgrowth of Trump's refusal to divest his business holdings and his everyday violation of Constitution's anti-corruption clause."
—Robert Weissman, Public Citizen
While most media reports on Wednesday focused on Trump's request that Zelensky "do us a favor" after the Ukrainian leader raised the question of buying U.S. military equipment, groups including Public Citizen and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) pointed out a less remarked-upon comment from Zelensky that the "last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower."
Zelensky made the remark after the two discussed coordinating an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden with Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr.
The brief mention of Zelensky's patronage at Trump's property revealed "the for-profit presidency on full display," Public Citizen tweeted.
The for-profit presidency is on full display. pic.twitter.com/OrcGbCMXua
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) September 25, 2019
Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, pointed out ther casual nature of the exchange about Zelensky's stay at Trump Tower.
"The comment was natural and exactly the sort of remark that new acquaintances make to each other when they are getting to know one another other," Weissman said in a statement. "It was also exactly the sort of remark that a person would make to Trump—a man notably susceptible to flattery and sycophantism—if he or she were trying to get in his good graces."
"This kind of casual corruption is an inevitable outgrowth of Trump's refusal to divest his business holdings and his everyday violation of Constitution's anti-corruption clause," Weissman added.
As Common Dreams has reported, critics have warned repeatedly that Trump's continued involvement in his business empire, the Trump Organization, has led to flagrant violations of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause.
The clause prohibits the president from receiving any gifts or payments from foreign or state leaders without congressional approval.
Trump's refusal to divest from his business when he took office opened the possibility that he could financially benefit when leaders like Zelensky stay at his properties, leaving the U.S. government owing a favor to foreign entities.
"This is what we've been warning about for years: proof directly from the White House that a foreign leader is trying to get in Trump's good graces by telling him he stayed at his hotel," tweeted CREW.
In a pending lawsuit against the president, which was reopened by a federal court earlier this month, CREW argues Trump's violation of the Emoluments Clause has led to unethical financial entanglements with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other countries that send delegations to stay in the president's hotels.
The transcript revealed that Zelensky may have sought to win favorable treatment from Trump as well, Public Citizen communications director Angela Bradbery wrote Wednesday.
"This isn't normal," Bradbery tweeted.
And here we have the Ukranian president making a point to tell Trump that he spent money at Trump's New York hotel. This isn't normal, people. #Corruption #EmolumentsClause #PitchforkMoment https://t.co/dMzPzMn7KB
— angelabradbery (@citizenangela) September 25, 2019
Some reporters took note of new evidence that the president violated the Emoluments Clause within Trump's conversation with Zelensky.
This may not be the part of the transcript that deserves to get the most attention, but note the foreign leader making a point of telling the president he stayed at a Trump property. pic.twitter.com/cGZZbZ7zg5
— Carrie Levine (@levinecarrie) September 25, 2019