Trump had been ripping us off -- but here's how taxpayers can take him to court
Donald Trump (Photo by Mandel Ngan for AFP)

In an opinion piece for MSNBC, the former chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush reacted to a report that Donald Trump and his family have been charging the U.S. government exorbitant rates at his hotels and resorts to house Secret Service agents and suggested several legal pathways the money can be reclaimed along with damages for fraud.

As Richard Painter notes in his op-ed, a recent NBC report stated that the Trump family has been charging over $1000 per night at his hotels -- more than five times higher than the government normally allows.

"Taxpayers were charged $1,160 per room per night at the Trump International Hotel in Washington for Secret Service agents protecting Eric Trump on March 8, 2017, a night for which the government rate was $242. Taxpayers were charged $1,185 per room per night for agents protecting Donald Trump Jr. on Nov. 8, 2017 at the Trump Hotel, at a time when the government rate was $201," he wrote. "For most presidential offspring of presidents, being guarded by Secret Service agents would be enough of a thrill. For the Trump family, making money at taxpayer expense was apparently an even greater thrill."

With that in mind, and expressing disgust at Trump's continuing profiteering, he suggested the Department of Justice look into the opening -- yet another -- investigation into the former president and his family, and then provided a roadmap for investigators to follow.

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"There are multiple avenues for recapturing Trump’s profiteering at the expense of the federal government – or at least preventing it in the future. First, his actions were a violation of the domestic emoluments clause of the Constitution, which provides that the president cannot receive compensation from the states or from the federal government in excess of his salary and pension set by Congress," he wrote before adding there is another mechanism for going after the money that was ripped off from taxpayers.

"Another approach would be the False Claims Act, which imposes liability on any person who knowingly submitted false claims to the government and provides that violators are liable for treble damages plus a monetary penalty," he explained. "Simply charging the government more than the usual government rate for hotel rooms may violate the act, but any misrepresentation of material facts made in connection with the Secret Service approvals, or in any other part of the process of getting these invoices paid, could be a violation."

He added that should the Trumps argue they were charging "market rates," that could easily be disproven.

Stating such a claim would also amount to fraud, he added, "In that case, the Department of Justice could - and should - add the Trump Organization to the long list of defendants that have been sued under this law for defrauding the federal government."

He then added, "Going forward, the Secret Service should not pay to any Trump hotel or club any amounts exceeding the federal rate. Whenever possible, Secret Service agents protecting Trump should stay at hotels not owned by the Trump family."

You can read more here.