By TAYLOR FERREIRA
The Title of Nobility Clause, or the Emoluments Clause, prohibits the federal government from granting titles of nobility. It also restricts members of the government from receiving gifts, emoluments (salaries, fees, or profits), offices or titles from foreign states and monarchies without the consent of the Congress (check out Article I, section 9, clause 8 of the Constitution). So what does that mean exactly? This clause basically inhibits members of the government from accepting bribes from foreign states and persons without the approval of Congress — it is a protection against corruption.
President Trump, since the beginning of his term in 2016, has been investigated based on his decision to maintain his global business, the Trump Organization. An article from The Washington Post explains how The Trump International Hotel in Manhattan received “a noticeable revenue boost” from a stay from a Saudi Arabian prince, and the D.C. location often provides for foreign governments and their diplomats.
Problems with the interpretation of this clause didn’t begin with our current presidency. Controversy surrounding the original framers’ intention stems all the way back to Washington. In an article by Richard Tofel, an opinion writer from ProPublica, he describes a legacy of past presidents who “sought for congressional approval” for the acceptance of gifts under the Emoluments Clause. These cases raised questions on the boundaries of the clause: if there could be an established minimum value where the restrictions would apply, whether there is a disparity between personal and official gifts, and significantly whether those gifts benefit the federal government rather than the executive power. There is even an argument on who the framers intended the clause for. Some have argued that the clause wasn’t originally intended for the President at all based on a letter to the Senate from Alexander Hamilton in 1792. This letter consisted of a list of “all under the office or employment of the United States” in which conveniently omitted the president.
Trump’s argument, backed by the U.S. Justice Department, hinges on this information and states how if the clause is to be strictly interpreted, presidents from the beginning of the republic would be in violation of the clause. He also promised that he would donate the profit from foreign delegates to the U.S. Treasury if the Congress accepted his emoluments. His lawyers argue that “fair-market transactions, like when a foreign delegation pays the market rate to stay at a Trump hotel, are permitted.” His opposers have questioned this statement referring not only to the millions of dollars he has received from these fair-market transactions, but the relationships they have resulted in. They argue that these relationships could lead to special treatment in regards to taxation, commerce, and regulation.
So is the President currently at fault? Unfortunately for him, there is plenty of information supporting his violation. Not only does he receive revenue from the Trump Hotel, the building is also leased to his corporation by the government. This fact brings in another constitutional clause stating how the president will receive compensation while in office, but “shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.” (Article II, section 1, clause 8) Meaning he not only receives emoluments from foreign officials, but also from another portion of the U.S. government.
To further stack the cards, it is important to acknowledge how the majority of past presidents, in order to avoid inquiry over their emoluments, would use blind trusts. In other words, they would leave their finances with an independent trustee, who would manage their funds without contact with the president. In contrast to his predecessors, President Trump’s is left in the hands of his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump in whom allow him access to the funds as well as communication regarding its usage and allocation. Trump also refuses to release his tax returns to prove how much money he actually receives from foreign diplomats.
So is Trump in violation of the clause? It will be interesting to see how the investigation will conclude. The congress could either accept his emoluments, voiding any consequences, or he could be convicted for violating the constitution–perfect fuel for those dreaming of his impeachment.