“Emoluments” isn’t a word that typically comes up in everyday conversations in the United States, but it’s a word that President Donald Trump and his attorneys could be thinking about a lot if a lawsuit involving the president and emoluments continues to progress.
Around 200 members of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives have filed a lawsuit against Trump for allegedly violating the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which states that a president is not allowed to receive gifts from foreign powers without Congress’ permission. And U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan addressed the lawsuit on April 30, when he wrote a 48-page opinion that rejected Trump’s efforts to have it thrown out. The lawsuit, Sullivan ruled, should go forward.
Stephen Rohde, discussing the lawsuit in a May 13 article for the American Prospect, stresses that the Emoluments Clause goes back to the Founding Fathers and that blatantly violating it is an impeachable offense. Trump, Rohde points out, “is the only president for at least 40 years who has not liquidated his business assets or put them in a blind trust” — and the lawsuit from members of Congress alleges that the president “has a financial interest in vast business holdings around the world that engage in dealings with foreign governments and receive benefits from those governments.”
The Emoluments Clause, Rohde explains, came about after founding father Benjamin Franklin received a gift from overseas. “In gratitude to Benjamin Franklin for his service as American minister to France from 1776 to 1785,” Rohde writes, “King Louis XVI gave him a snuffbox festooned with 408 diamonds. Two years later when the Founders wrote the new Constitution, they rejected absolute monarchy but feared that public officials could be corrupted by foreign gifts. They adopted the Foreign Emoluments Clause.”
Many years later, Rohde observes, special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report for the Russia investigation “established how Trump welcomed the gift of Russian interference in the 2016 election to help defeat his opponent and advance his candidacy. Once in office, Trump has continued to enjoy foreign gifts and benefits…. Violating the express terms of the emoluments clauses may be the clearest evidence that Trump has committed ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ justifying impeachment.”