Co-written by Mark Green
Dear President-elect Trump:
We urge you to announce on December 15 that you'll divest yourself of all interests in the Trump Organization in order to avoid a) daily violations of the Constitution barring foreign "emoluments" and b) the risk of later impeachment. A For-Profit-Presidency would be blatantly unethical, unprecedented and unconstitutional.
Neither the president nor public should tolerate the built-in-bribery of foreign governments quietly lining the pockets of a person they are seeking to influence on policy. That's why we have an Emoluments Clause in Article One, Section 9 of the U. S. Constitution. It says that "no person holding any office...shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept any present, emolument [profit, gain], office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state."
This prohibition became a part of the Articles of Confederation for its entire eight year existence, then was included intact by the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 22 worried that Republics "have too easy an inlet to foreign corruption."
An article in ProPublica.org summarizes its subsequent development:
"In 1902, an attorney general's opinion said it is 'directed against every kind of influence by foreign governments upon officers of the United States.' In 1970, a comptroller general opinion declared that the clause's 'drafters intended the prohibition to have the broadest possible scope and applicability.' A 1994 Justice Department opinion said 'the language of Emoluments Clause is both sweeping and unqualified.'"
You appear to have ambivalent views of this provision and problem. On the one hand, you repeatedly attacked Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton for what you regarded as clashing interests between her public role as Secretary of State and her husband's Clinton Foundation. Last month you said that "I will be leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country... [because] it is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses"; you later tweeted that "legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations" [emphases added].
On the other hand, there have been numerous reports how you have put yourself in just such conflicting situations. Presumably, old habits die hard and you've spent your entire adult life in the pursuit of profit and the "art of the deal." But what's customary in business can be corrupt once in public office.
--Of the first 29 foreign leaders you spoke with, you had properties in eight of their countries.
--In a post-election call with Nigel Farage, then the leader of the British UK Independent Party, you two apparently discussed your opposition to windmills near a golf course that you own in Scotland...Your company reportedly researched a string of hotels in Taoyan, Taiwan before you had a controversial phone call with Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen...In your first meeting with a foreign leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, your daughter attended even though she has no formal portfolio or experience in international diplomacy and was then negotiating a licensing deal with a giant Japanese retailer backed by the government-owned development bank....
--You praised Turkey President Erdogan's crackdown this year following a failed coup attempt at the same time that you were managing the massive Trump Towers in Istanbul...Your partner in a 57-story building in Manila recently visited you, as an official Philippine envoy, before you spoke with and lauded President Duterte, who has killed several thousand people who he suspected of selling drugs (see generally, Paddock, et al., "Potential Conflicts Around the World for Trump, the Businessman President," New York Times, Nov. 26, 2016).
"Oligarchs" are rich dictators and the super-wealthy in countries such as Russia who exploit public office for private gain at the expense of their citizenry. This is neither an American nor a Constitutional value in our democracy, as our founding document makes clear. Yet you and some supporters appear disdainful or dismissive of the principles behind conflicts laws and the Emoluments Clause: