A newly published NBC News review found evidence that representatives of at least 22 foreign governments have made payments to Donald Trump’s still-owned, for-profit company. According to some expert interpretations and two federal lawsuits, this is illegal: The Constitution specifically prohibits the U.S. president from accepting “emoluments”—gifts, payments, or fees—from foreign governments as means of preventing a presidency from being compromised by whichever foreign sources are willing to offer the most convincing bribes.
The review counts at least nine foreign governments that have hosted events at one of Trump’s properties, nine that have rented or purchased property in one of Trump’s developments, and five that have sent representatives to stay at one of those properties. They include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, China, and other governments with pressing business with Trump’s administration, because of course.
The obvious conflict of interest—and the perception of outright bribery—was warned of early in the Trump campaign. Nonetheless, Trump refused to relinquish his business interests after his inauguration. In an attempt to stifle what was becoming a din of watchdog voices warning that his actions violated the Constitution’s prohibition, the Trump Organization announced that they would be donating any “profits” gleaned from foreign government payments to the U.S. Treasury. They did not define profits, nor have they provided documentation for any of the numbers subsequently claimed to be profits. It is a black box. The Trump Organization, managed during Trump’s presidency by his children, has insisted that no further disclosures will be made.
This is, of course, all crooked as hell. The notion that Trump, exposed by The New York Times and other reporting as a longtime tax cheat, and offspring Donald Trump Jr., just summoned to again explain himself after giving what appeared to be incomplete or misleading answers to the Republican-led Senate committee investigating his communications with Russian government cutouts during Russia’s 2016 election-hacking efforts, need no documentation for their assurances that they are not violating the Constitution because they are patching it all back up on the back end, is asinine.
It is common knowledge at this point that the diplomatic path to gaining something from the United States government is to flatter Donald Trump personally, and it has been amply demonstrated that not flattering Trump personally can result in White House-led retaliation. Every government in the world can presume that funneling cash into the Trump International Hotel or other properties is indeed an effective way of earning Donald’s trust and ensuring smoother relations with his administration, regardless of whether the Trump Organization relinquishes a small portion of that cash after consultation with their own hidden accounts. You would be stupid not to think so. Led by Junior, the Trump Organization itself asserts it is keeping a list of which governments do and do not pay them money, so each government can in fact rest assured that their own contributions will be noticed.
It’s crooked. It’s crooked even if the “profits” are skimmed away so that each foreign government is paying money not directly into Trump’s pockets, but toward keeping his employees paid and his rented rooms filled and his hallways bustling with important-looking people conducting important-sounding business in the buildings emblazoned with his “brand.” Jimmy Carter was forced to give up the family farm, lest some supplicant hit on the idea of buying an enormous quantity of peanuts as a way to get presidential attention. This tax-cheating, attention-seeking, flattery-obsessed nitwit, on the other hand, doubles his club membership fees and makes it clear to anyone willing to pay it that yes, he would be happy to have weekend chats with them during golf rounds. And try the chocolate cake, by the way—it is the best around.