In an exchange on Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Bill Barr, admitted to California’s Dianne Feinstein that he didn’t understand the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The clause is meant to protect the United States system of government from “corrupting foreign influences” by restricting government officials from receiving “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Many Democrats and legal scholars believe the president has frequently violated the Emoluments Clause.
Barr said the president had a right to intervene in investigations as long as he had no personal stake.
“An easy, bad example would be if a member of the president’s family or a business associate or something was under investigation and he tries to intervene,” Barr said. “That would be a breach of his obligation under the Constitution to faithfully execute the laws.”
“Including the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution?” interjected Feinstein. Barr began stammering after a brief pause.
“Well, I think there’s a dispute as to what the Emoluments Clause relates to,” he replied as he fiddled nervously with his tie. “I have not personally researched Emoluments Clause. I can’t tell you what it says at this point.”
“Off the top of my head, I would have said emoluments are essentially a stipend attached to some office,” Barr continued. “But I don’t know if that’s correct or not. I think it’s being litigated right now.”
In fact, a federal judge ruled in September 2018 that congressional Democrats have standing to sue the president over emoluments violations.
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