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New Analysis: President Trump, Corruption, and the Constitution

July 26, 2017

Trump’s Conduct and the Original Meaning of the Domestic Emoluments Clause 

Washington, DC – Today, Constitutional Accountability Center is releasing The Domestic Emoluments Clause: Its Text, Meaning, and Application to Donald J. Trump – a new 25-page examination of the original meaning of one of the U.S. Constitution’s critical anti-corruption provisions and how it relates to the conduct of President Trump. 

“Practically every week that goes by, another revelation about President Trump and his businesses calls into question whether the President is loyal first to his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, or to his portfolio of business interests,” said Brianne Gorod, CAC’s Chief Counsel and one of the authors of today’s study. “Each new revelation raises the specter of self-dealing and corruption in our nation’s highest office – a concern that obsessed America’s founders, one they took great pains to prevent, and one that President Trump seems determined to ignore.”

The analysis released today pulls together scholarship on the Domestic Emoluments Clause and a range of other sources that shed light on how the founding generation understood its key terms – from notes of the debates at the Constitutional Convention and during state ratification to dictionary entries, the Federalist Papers, and other contemporary writings. Together, these materials contradict the unsound positions asserted by President Trump’s lawyers. The term “emolument,” for example, was used very broadly by America’s Founders, who employed it in the Domestic Emoluments Clause to encompass and prohibit any benefit, advantage, or profit that the President might accept from federal, state, or local government entities in addition to his salary.

Today’s analysis also examines several publicly reported examples of ways in which President Trump may be in violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause, while exploring some of the consequences of his persistent refusal to abide by its terms. 

“Any examples of President Trump’s potential constitutional violations that we know about today are just the ones that have been discovered and reported,” said CAC Appellate Counsel Brian Frazelle, co-author of today’s study. “Because Trump rejects every demand to be transparent, disclose the full array of his business interests, and either divest himself from them or put them in a truly blind trust, we can only assume those examples are just the tip of the iceberg.” 

“America’s Founders commanded – through the Constitution’s clear terms – that every President place himself above suspicion of self-dealing in office,” continued CAC’s Gorod. “So far, President Trump has acted like no limits apply to his business activity. The Domestic Emoluments Clause says otherwise.”

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Resources:

The Domestic Emoluments Clause: Its Text, Meaning, and Application to Donald J. Trump, CAC Issue Brief by Brianne Gorod, Brian Frazelle, and Sam Houshower, July 2017: https://www.theusconstitution.org/think-tank/issue-brief/domestic-emoluments-clause

“On Trump Conflicts, Don’t Forget About the Other Emoluments Clause,” Brianne Gorod, Huffington Post, December 19, 2016: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brianne-j-gorod/on-trump-conflicts-dont-f_b_13721348.html

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Constitutional Accountability Center (www.theusconstitution.org) is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution's text and history.

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