“I see the failure of the GOP (Republican Party) to act as the deepest form of betrayal, not simply of this nation and her people, but of all those sharing this planet who have been dependent on this fragile international mobile of precarious alliances for safety. Now we see this blatant corruption and profiteering – actions which are so clearly against the public good that it seems the universal ethics of so many healers to do no harm are reversed with malicious malignancy to … how to do the greatest harm, how to profit from a pesticide PROVEN to damage developing our children’s minds, how to find a way to despoil the most sacred public grounds for the profits of a few which destroy the priceless treasure of a species. Decision after decision to destroy rather than create. To feed the ugliest aspects of human nature rather than foster the best within us. It seems to become almost a parody of a plot where the forces of good and evil… death and survival… altruism and greed … service against selfishness wage their endless human battles on a vast stage.” - Cynthia Rogers, January 16, 2018
When you read Cynthia Rogers’s Facebook post, it calls to mind the universal struggle of good vs. evil, much like CREW‘s report on what the #45th U.S. President Donald Trump has done in 2017, released on January 16, 2018.
“A year later, we at the CREW [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s Noah Bookbinder, Norman Eisen, Richard Painter and the CREW staff] have initiated 180 other legal matters against the [45th] president and his administration. The Trump administration is confronted by an extraordinary scale and scope of legal and ethics scandals. It is unrivaled in the modern era, and perhaps in the history of the nation, for a first-year administration,” the report said.
It goes on to say that, “the conduct of this administration, from the president on down, threatens our centuries-old tradition of a government that functions to serve the interests of the American people, rather than to serve the interests of those in power. A year in, it is clear that a failure to address this crisis, or a normalization of the corrupt conduct of this administration, risks lasting harm to the country.”
It advances a critique that corruption comes from the top: “Indeed, the original sin of the Trump administration was the president’s decision to retain ownership of his businesses. While he has apparently transferred day-to-day management of his businesses to his sons, he continues to own his vast global empire of hotels, golf courses, office buildings, and other businesses; he knows what the companies are, he monitors their activities, he profits when the companies do, and the trust he formed allows him to access those profits at any time. That creates a massive web of conflicts of interest. For virtually every decision President Trump makes, from taxes to environmental regulations to foreign policy, the American people cannot be sure whether he made his decision in the public interest or to benefit his bottom line.”
Recall how Trump began his first year in office, with California Judge Gonzalo Curiel approving the final settlement of $25 million settlement in the Trump University litigation, to favor 3,700 who have been victimized by fraud, last March 2017, a lawsuit that took six years? The settlement allowed 3,700 students to recover 90 percent of what they spent on Trump University, when they were persuaded to sign up for seminars with unsavory sales tactics for Gold Elite membership and access for personal mentoring at $35,000.
Given Trump’s immediate past history, it would not be surprising for him to show a disregard for ethics, corruption laws, nepotism, and democratic norms, particularly when he chose his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and later, even his own daughter, Ivanka Trump, to be his senior advisors.
The couple, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, carried their own set of ethical conflicts, as both have business interests they own and protect. Remember the hundreds of new trademarks Ivanka received from the Chinese government? Or how Jared Kushner kept revising his filings of ethics disclosure forms to protect his business associates 39 times?
If the White House and the federal government were private enterprises, none of Trump’s appointments nor his derived benefits from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. would be questionable nor would his actions be in violation of the ethics clause or even the emoluments clause.
Constitutionally prohibited benefits
The U.S. Constitution provides for “No Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them [the United States], 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.”
When “Trump signed a 60-year lease for the government-owned Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2013, then spent more than $200 million turning the project into a luxury hotel,” the Washington Post reported that the lease agreement has a clause “barring any elected official of the government of the United States from deriving any benefit.”
That emoluments clause, according to NBC News’ Samee Ali, prompted the attorneys general of Maryland and District of Columbia to file a lawsuit “for flagrant violations of the Emoluments Clause for maintaining ownership of his businesses afterinauguration — particularly his hotels, which are taking in foreign profits.”
The President promoted Trump International Hotel to foreign diplomats and to government officials and “reportedly took in about $270,000 in payments tied to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is lobbying to pull back U.S. terrorism law,” NBC News reported.
CREW reported that “countries from Saudi Arabia to Malaysia to China have provided business to the president in the form of hotel stays, special events, rental of office space, and the provision of valuable trademarks, among many other transactions that represent not only conflicts of interest and violations of the emoluments clause, meaning profit or gain from foreign governments.”
In Trump-owned Mar-a- Lago, a golf course he frequents and at which over 100 days in his first year in the White House were spent, guests pay a membership fee of $200,000, which doubled since the 2016 presidential elections.
CREW reports that “No president in the history of our nation has held businesses creating the kinds of conflicts, constitutional violation, and self-dealing we see with this one.”
In a press conference, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and DC Attorney General Karl Racine filed a lawsuit in June 2017, accusing the P President of flagrantly violating the Constitution.
Brian Frosh was quoted by NBC News’ Alex Seitz-Wald and Corky Siemaszko, as saying, “President Trump’s continued ownership interest in a global empire, which renders him deeply enmeshed with a legion of foreign and domestic government actors, violates the Constitution and calls into question the rule of law and the integrity of the country’s political system. And irrespective of whether such benefits affect the President’s decision-making or shift his foreign or domestic policy, uncertainty about whether the President is acting in the best interest of the American people, or rather for his own ends or personal enrichment, inflicts lasting harm on our democracy.”
After a year in office, CREW concluded, “it is abundantly clear that the executive branch under President Trump is characterized by contempt for ethics and conflicts of interest rules and for the rule of law. Any hope that President Trump would sell his businesses to avoid conflicts of interest or let the investigation into Russian election meddling proceed without interference—or that he would demand high ethical standards from the rest of his administration—has been conclusively refuted. It is time for the American people to conclude that one year is enough and to demand an end to the culture of corruption gripping Washington.”
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was one of the principal leaders of the new nation America in the 18th century. He is remembered as a courageous army officer, according to the Patriot’s Handbook, as the commissioner to France who in 1798 refused a veiled request for bribes with, “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.” He also said, “If I had a vein that did not beat with the love of my country, I myself would open it.”
The emoluments clause was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution to ensure neutrality, to prevent the appearance of corruption and “a reminder of the framers’ tough stance against political corruption, kickbacks, and undue outside influence on the nation’s leaders.”
We, the American people, must insist on having an honest, ethical and rule-of law-compliant president in the White House.
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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.