Federal judge says it is the role of Congress to address Trump’s emolumental issues


On Thursday, a federal judge dismissed a foreign emoluments lawsuit against President Donald J. Trump alleging that he violated the Constitution through his businesses because of a lack of standing, and said that this should be resolved by Congress.

“We would likely be living in a different world if elected officials were legally bound to carry out the political promises they made prior to taking office,” wrote Judge George B. Daniels of the United States District Court in Manhattan wrote in his ruling.

“In our democracy, once a candidate is elected to office, it is for the politicians and the people they represent — not the courts — to decide which campaign promises will be fulfilled and which will become abandoned rhetoric.”

That ruling does not mean that President Trump isn’t violating the United States Constitution by retaining global conflicts of interest, only that this lawsuit by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington did not demonstrate sufficient harms, as Noah Bookbinder highlighted in his statement and Walt Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, pointed out:

While the next steps in this lawsuit aren”t clear yet, there is a demonstrable harm that we can document as the year comes to a close: the enduring appearance of corruption in the highest office in the executive branch of the United States government.

This weekend, the president will travel to Mar-a-Lago, the Florida mansion turned private club that Trump calls the “Winter White House,” despite the non-public status of the property. Politico reports that Mar-a-Lago raised ticket prices to its private New Year’s Eve party, which President Trump usually attends. The ongoing monetization of influence and access to the president at his private businesses at home and abroad presents an emolumental challenge to American democracy.

Despite the concerns that the nation’s top government watchdogs and ethics experts have raised to Congress and the public this year about this presidency, we end 2017 much as we began, with a president who has refused to disclose his taxes and divest from his private businesses.

TI US corruption survey institutions

There is at least one notable difference, however: Americans view the federal government as more corrupt now, including the Office of the Presidency.

Over that time, Congress has tolerated the emolumental issues that the 45th President’s unprecedented conflicts of interest present in an unprecedented fashion.

We strongly support watchdogs continuing to document and explore the constitutional issues here in the legal system – but this is a problem for the First Branch of government to resolve, as Judge Daniels highlighted in his decision on Trump’s case.

“As the only political branch with the power to consent to violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, Congress is the appropriate body to determine whether, and to what extent, Defendant’s conduct unlawfully infringes on that power,” he wrote.

The founders of the United States provided the public’s representatives in Congress with a constitutional framework to remedy unethical or unconstitutional conduct and actions by a president. We hope to see more oversight and accountability in DC in the New Year.