A new report released by House Democrats on the Committee on Oversight and Accountability alleges that former President Donald Trump’s businesses took in millions of dollars from foreign governments while he was in office, likely violating the Constitution’s prohibition against presidents profiting from foreign payments.
The report details over $7.8 million in foreign government payments to Trump Organization properties during his four years as president. This includes over $5.5 million from Chinese state-owned entities and $1.1 million from the Saudi government. Trump did not fully divest from his business interests while president, raising concerns about conflicts of interest and foreign influence.
The Constitution’s Emoluments Clause prohibits the president from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” The report argues Trump was in “blatant disregard” of this clause.
House Democrats are vowing to strengthen accountability and ethics laws to prevent future presidents from profiting off the office. But Republican critics argue the report is a political attack and downplay its significance. Legal experts say the report breaks little new ground, but will fuel ongoing debates about Trump’s finances and adherence to democratic norms and processes.
Key Details from the House Democrats’ Report
- Trump properties in the U.S. and abroad took in $7.8 million in payments from foreign governments while Trump was president
- Over $5.5 million came from Chinese state-owned entities
- Saudi government officials spent over $1.1 million on Trump properties
- Other foreign payments came from Japan, India, Turkey, and Malaysia among others
- Much of the money was spent hosting events at Trump’s Washington D.C. hotel
- Payments seemed to increase around key diplomatic events with some countries
|Total Payments to Trump
Table showing top foreign government sources of Trump property payments while he was president, via House Democrats’ report
Reactions from Democrats and Republicans
House Democrats argue the report provides clear evidence Trump unethically and unconstitutionally profited from the presidency.
“Donald Trump clearly broke constitutional norms and has to be held accountable,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), chair of the oversight committee.
Meanwhile, Republicans have dismissed the report as a political witch hunt, with Rep. James Comer (R-KY) calling it an attempt to “distract the American people from President Biden’s failed agenda.”
But legal experts say while the report breaks little major new ground, it will fuel ongoing debates about Trump’s adherence to rules and democratic norms:
“It’s no smoking gun, but will still be held up by Trump critics as more evidence of his flouting rules and norms,” said Richard Painter, former White House ethics lawyer under Bush.
Concerns over Trump profiting from the presidency dogged his administration from the beginning. Unlike modern presidents, Trump did not divest from his business holdings, which include hotels, resorts and other real estate globally.
Watchdog groups and Constitutional scholars flagged this as an ethics issue, arguing it opened the doors for Trump to unethically and unconstitutionally profit from his position as president.
The Emoluments Clause in the Constitution prohibits the president from accepting any payments or gifts from foreign states without Congressional approval. The clause is intended to prevent foreign influence over America’s chief executive.
Previous reports indicated foreign officials frequented Trump properties while lobbying his administration. For example, Saudi-funded lobbyists spent over $270,000 at Trump’s D.C. hotel in December 2016.
But hard numbers have been difficult to verify given the complex structure of Trump’s privately held business interests.
What Comes Next
House Democrats say they will push legislation strengthening presidential ethics laws, including requiring more stringent financial disclosures.
Some Democrats also want to see the DOJ or state authorities launch actual criminal investigations into Trump’s finances and adherence to ethics and transparency laws while in office. However, legal experts are skeptical charges would stick given the difficulties proving intent.
Meanwhile, Trump will likely continue facing questions about foreign profits while in office as he embarks on another presidential run in 2024.
At a broader level, the report will fuel ongoing debates about holding presidents accountable and Trump’s repeated breaking of democratic rules and processes. It also highlights concerns about foreign influence in American politics.
Ultimately, experts say while this report is unlikely to single-handedly damage Trump politically with his base, it contributes to death-by-a-thousand-cuts erosion of his public legitimacy over time.
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