Conflicts of Interest Could Put Trump in Violation of Constitution 'On Day One'

President-elect Donald Trump’s global business interests continue to come under intense scrutiny, with two top ethics lawyers saying the Electoral College must reject Trump on December 19 if he does not divest his holdings and establish a truly blind trust. 

Norman Eisen, chief ethics counsel for Barack Obama, told ThinkProgress this week that “the founders did not want any foreign payments to the president. Period.”

“This principle,” explained ThinkProgress editor Judd Legum, “is enshrined in Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, which bars office holders from accepting ‘any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.'” The provision, he said, is aimed at limiting foreign influence over the president. 

However, according to Legum:

Citing Trump’s recent statements to the New York Times, Eisen added to the Guardian on Sunday:

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In turn, “to vote for Trump in the absence of such complete divestment…would represent an abdication of the solemn duties of the 538 electors,” said Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe to ThinkProgress, concurring with Eisen’s analysis of Trump’s holdings. 

“Trump’s ongoing business dealings around the world would make him the recipient of constitutionally prohibited ‘Emoluments‘ from ‘any King, Prince, or foreign State’— in the original sense of payments and not necessarily presents or gifts — from the very moment he takes the oath,” Tribe said.


Both ThinkProgress and the Guardian point to comments by another former chief White House ethics counsel—Richard Painter, who served under George W. Bush—as evidence that such concerns are non-partisan. 

“I don’t think the Electoral College can vote for someone to become president if he’s going to be in violation of the Constitution on day one and hasn’t assured us he’s not in violation,” Painter said in a recent interview on CNN

But as the Guardian writes:

As Michael J. Green, who served on the National Security Council in the administration of George W. Bush, and before that at the Defense Department, told the New York Times for its exposé published Sunday: “It is uncharted territory, really in the history of the republic, as we have never had a president with such an empire both in the United States and overseas.”

Indeed, the Times piece suggests that rather than disentangling their business interests, “Trump’s family appears to have been preparing for the transition to the Oval Office and ways to capitalize on it both in the United States and around the globe.”

According to the Times:

It all lends credence to Eisen’s warning to ThinkProgress: the country is facing a “wholesale oligarchic kleptocracy of a kind that we have never seen before in our history.”

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