Donald Trump says that if the president does it, it’s not illegal

Keep on draining that swamp.

CREDIT: AP Photo
CREDIT: AP Photo

Since Election Day, President-elect Donald Trump encouraged foreign diplomats to stay at his hotels, pressed British politicians to oppose a wind farm that could block the view from his golf course, met with Indian businessmen about building an apartment complex near Mumbai, invited his children — who he says will be taking over much of the management of his business — to sit in on meetings with foreign leaders, and possibly asked a head of state to clear the path for permits he needs to build a high-rise.

Yet, in an interview with the New York Times, Trump offered a defense of his actions that smacks of a similar defense offered by the one American president to resign from office in disgrace.

The law is not totally on Trump’s side. To the contrary, the nation’s highest law, the Constitution, includes a provision intended to prevent many of the conflicts of interest now facing Trump. Under the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, “no person holding any office of profit or trust under” the United States “shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

Thus, for example, Trump cannot communicate to foreign diplomats that they can garner favor with him by patronizing his businesses, or seek special regulatory exemptions for his business ventures from foreign leaders.

Trump is right that the presidency is exempt from certain ethics laws — although, again, he is not exempt from the Constitution. One law, for example, prohibits many federal employees from participating in matters where they or a member of their close family has a financial interest in the outcome. But the president is exempt from this law.

That exemption is likely a nod to the unique nature of the presidency — there are certain decisions that can only be made by the president, and thus if the president were conflicted out the government could be paralyzed. Nevertheless, presidents have historically taken steps to reduce any potential conflicts that they might face while in office, such as placing their assets in a blind trust.

Trump, however, has yet to do so. And he continues to mingle his work as a future head of state with his ongoing work to increase his own personal fortune.

Later in his interview with the Times, Trump made conflicting statements regarding what, if any, steps he would take to separate his role as the president from his role as a self-interested businessman. He said that he’d “assumed that you’d have to set up some type of trust or whatever and you don’t,” but he added that he “would like to do something.” He claimed that he is “phasing out” his role in his company and is turning matters over to his children — even as he invites those children to sit in on meetings with foreign leaders. Also, he said this:

In any event, Trump is not blind to the profitable opportunities that come from being the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. His D.C. hotel, the one where his company encourages foreign diplomats to stay, is “probably a more valuable asset than it was before,” according to Trump, because his brand is “hotter.”