Ted Eytan / Flickr trump hotel...
Ted Eytan / Flickr

With the Russia investigation spreading out into every facet of Trump’s business and every member of Trump’s campaign, and with Donald Trump working hard to bury that investigation under a never-ending stream of distractions up to and including threats of war, it’s easy to forget that other Trump investigation.

A lawsuit contending that President Donald Trump’s business dealings with and in foreign countries violate the Constitution is set to get a public airing in October in a New York federal courtroom.

The suit is just one of several that have been advanced concerning Trump’s use of his position to make gains directly and indirectly through either hosting government activities at his facilities, or encouraging foreign dignitaries to patronize Trump hotels if they hope to get favorable treatment at the White House. Some of these suits are likely to fail on the basis of “standing,” as judges rule that the groups funding the suits can’t show they’ve suffered direct harm. Others will move forward.

And for all those times when people have said that the Justice Department is not Trump’s private law firm … that’s not always clear to them.

The Justice Department is defending Trump in the litigation and contends that the foreign emoluments clause does not cover routine business payments, even if foreign governments are involved.

Which is a handy thing when defending a guy in a business where prices are arbitrary, subject to change on a moment’s notice. $33,000 a night hotel suite? Of course. $100 million for a $40 million house? You got it. And neither one of those is the biggest problem that should concern the judge.

When “routine business payments” can be of any amount, there’s plenty of room to pad a payment to a politician without handing over a money bag stamped “bribe.” Trump’s supporters in the Justice Department and elsewhere will argue that it’s not emoluments because the business was there before Trump took office, and because Trump has no official policy and is not, so far as we know, checking receipts. But it’s clear that some foreign governments are spending significant amounts to secure rooms at Trump’s facilities, and have been doing so since before the election.

Still, there’s another facet that needs a serious look.

Since President Trump won the Republican nomination, the majority of his companies’ real estate sales are to secretive shell companies that obscure the buyers’ identities, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

Over the last 12 months, about 70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies – corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners’ names. That compares with about 4% of buyers in the two years before.

It’s easy to blow off the idea of emoluments if the scope is limited to who’s sleeping in Trump’s hotel rooms. But Trump is processing hundreds of millions of dollars from secret sources.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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