Earlier this month, Richard Painter, former chief ethics counsel to President George W. Bush, told ThinkProgress that President-elect Donald Trump is poised to violate the Constitution on his first day in office unless he sells his business, including the new Trump International Hotel located just blocks from the White House.
Trump hasn’t signaled any willingness to do so. And on Tuesday — weeks after foreign diplomats were wined and dined at Trump International during a sales pitch —the Bahrain embassy announced it is planning to hold its National Day celebration at Trump’s hotel.
Here’s the invite:
Reached Tuesday afternoon, an official at the embassy said nobody was available to field a question about how and when Trump International was selected as the venue for the National Day event, and urged ThinkProgress to call back Wednesday.
Bahrain’s celebration takes place more than a month before Trump is sworn in as president on January 20. But the stream of payments from foreign governments to Trump, through his hotel, will violate the Constitution’s “Emoluments Clause.” That clause stipulates that “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.”
The issue was encapsulated in the Washington Post’s report about the sales pitch event at Trump’s DC hotel. An unnamed diplomat from an Asian country told the paper, “Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’… Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?’”
Painter told ThinkProgress that any diplomat’s effort to curry Trump’s favor by staying at his hotel “looks like a gift” of the sort the Emoluments Clause is intended to prohibit.
Renting space at a luxury hotel to hold a major event likely costs tens of thousands of dollars at a minimum. Consider a situation where the Trump administration is considering taking action in response, for example, to Bahrain’s sub-par human rights record. An Amnesty International report published this month criticized the Gulf Arab kingdom’s security forces for engaging in torture following a 2011 uprising. Might President Trump be reluctant to take aggressive action against Bahrain since it is also his customer? Preventing conflicts of that sort is exactly why the constitutional prohibition against payments from foreign governments exists.
Trump, however, isn’t worried about it. During a recent interview with the New York Times, he said, “the law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” While it’s true the president is exempt from federal conflict-of-interest law, the president is not exempt from the Constitution.