Trump-Legal Troubles

Trump Tower is visible in New York City in February 2022. Ted Shaffrey/Associated Press

During Donald Trump’s presidency, his businesses received at least $7.8 million in payments from the foreign governments and officials of 20 countries, including China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, according to a report released by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee.

The report argues that the payments were in violation of the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, a provision that bars federal officials, including the president, from accepting money or gifts from foreign governments without permission from Congress. That clause was central to a protracted legal debate when Democrats controlled the House and sought access to Trump’s financial records. The issue eventually landed at the Supreme Court, but there was no definitive ruling on whether Trump illegally profited from his presidency. Instead, the justices in 2021 said the cases were moot because Trump no longer held office.

Three years later, Trump could win a second term as president. He’s the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination and poised for a potential rematch against President Biden. Many recent polls show Biden trailing Trump in support nationally and in key battleground states.

When Republicans took control of the House in 2023, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., ended the congressional investigation into Trump’s alleged violations of the emoluments clause. He also declined to enforce a court-ordered agreement that Mazars USA, Trump’s former accounting firm, produce evidence related to Trump’s financial dealings.

Before Comer’s chairmanship, Mazars had started document production and turned over a subset of documents to Oversight Committee Democrats, led by ranking Democrat Jamie Raskin, D-Md. That tranche of documents showed payments by foreign governments to three Trump properties in New York, D.C. and Las Vegas. Committee investigators also identified, from public records, significant spending at a fourth Trump property, Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York.

“These payments were made while these governments were promoting specific foreign policy goals with the Trump Administration and even, at times, with President Trump himself, and as they were requesting specific actions from the United States to advance their own national policy objectives,” according to the 155-page report released Thursday.

Comer said in a statement Thursday that it was “beyond parody that Democrats continue their obsession with former President Trump,” and that Trump has “legitimate businesses.”

According to information available to committee investigators, China made the largest total payments – $5.5 million – to Trump’s private businesses. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), one of China’s biggest state-owned banks, was among Trump Tower’s largest office tenants during the Trump presidency. The report notes that during Trump’s first year in the White House, several Chinese banks – including ICBC – came under scrutiny for financial ties to North Korea, causing the administration to weigh sanctions against them.

Despite calls from members of his own party to implement maximum pressure against these banks to halt the North Korean nuclear program, “then-President Trump and his Administration did not take any formal action against Trump Tower tenant ICBC,” the report concludes.

Documents produced to the committee also suggest that despite Trump’s pledge to abstain from any new business deals with foreign entities while in office, the Trump Organization and Trump International Hotel in D.C. may have “continued to solicit business in China after Mr. Trump entered office.”

“In June 2017, Patricia Tang, the Director of Sales and Marketing at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., billed the hotel $1,950 as a reimbursable business expense for a ‘Hotel in China,’ ” investigators wrote. Tang appeared to return later that year, according to additional expense reports obtained by the committee regarding a reimbursement for “business cards printed by [redacted] for Patricia while on China Trip in November 2017″ – the same month Trump made an official visit to the country.

Saudi Arabia made the second-largest sum of payments to Trump businesses while he was in office, with investigators identifying at least $615,422 spent at two Trump properties. Qatar spent $465,744 at a Trump property, and Kuwait spent $303,372, according to the report.

The report, which argues that no president has “ever come so close to brazenly ignoring the Foreign Emoluments Clause” as Trump, recommends Congress consider adopting measures to prevent such violations in the future.

Among the actions the report urges Congress to consider are a requirement that senior executive officials disclose to Congress receipt of any foreign emoluments, and an “explicit procedure for presidents and senior officials to seek the requisite congressional authorization for the receipt and retention of emoluments.” The report also recommends Congress implement a process for disclosing payments to entities in which a sitting president has a financial interest by foreign officials and lobbyists acting on behalf of foreign governments.

While Comer stymied the congressional probe into Trump, he has aggressively pursued an investigation into Biden’s alleged involvement with his son’s foreign business dealings. Republicans have so far not released any direct evidence that Biden benefited from his son’s financial involvement in Ukraine or elsewhere. But the investigation has become the basis of an impeachment inquiry against Biden, which GOP lawmakers formally authorized last month.

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