Saturday, February 15, 2020

Domestic Emoluments

GORGEOUS 3 BD 2 FULL BTH 2 HALF BTH COUNTRY FARM HOUSE W/HEATED AND COOLED 700 SQ FT OFFICE/STUDIO OVER 3 CAR GARAGE, IN-GRD HEATED POOL, 5 STALL BARN ON OVER 7 ACRES IN THE HEART OF BEDMINSTER. $6.,000.month as opposed to almost three times that if Secret Service is writing the check. Via Zillow

Something I'm not hearing, as in this otherwise perfectly good NBC story
On Wednesday night, when President Donald Trump addressed supporters from behind a Trump Hotels lectern in a room at his Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., one of his company's most faithful customers accompanied him.
The U.S. Secret Service.
The government agency charged with protecting the president has paid his businesses at least $471,000 to fulfill its congressional mandate, according to documents The Washington Post recently obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. That's money from U.S. taxpayers flowing to the Trump Organization, with a venerable 155-year-old law enforcement organization being used like one of Michael Cohen's Delaware shell companies and serving as a conduit for presidential profit. And that $471,000 figure? It's only through April 2018.
—is that it's another violation of the Constitution, just as serious as taking money from the Saudi Arabian government, when he gets money from our own government; a violation of Article II, section 1, clause 7, the Domestic Emoluments Clause,

The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.
You knew there were two emoluments clauses, right? That's the other one. The United States is not allowed to pay him anything other than his salary, and no particular state is allowed to pay him either. The Secret Service is the government, as are the State Department and the Defense Department, and they can't be putting money in the president's pocket.

I discussed this in October (with a good deal of attention to the case studies offered by George Washington, our bona fide richest president of all, way richer than Trump, who wouldn't even purchase a plot of land in the capital district that would one day be named after him without promising to give it up if anybody thought it was improper), but nobody's been picking up on it. And now further reporting from the inestimable David Fahrenthold and company at the Washington Post detailing the way the Trump organization was overcharging the Secret Service in 2017 and 2018 (it take the government a long time to release the numbers)
At Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, the Secret Service was charged the $650 rate dozens of times in 2017, and a different rate, $396.15, dozens more times in 2018, according to documents from Trump’s visits.
And at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, the Secret Service was charged $17,000 a month to use a three-bedroom cottage on the property, an unusually high rent for homes in that area, according to receipts from 2017. Trump’s company billed the government even for days when Trump wasn’t there.
The Mar-a-Lago rooms being in a neighborhood for which the maximum per diem rate expected by the federal government was $182 and the State Department was paying Trump $520 to $546, and the Bedminster cottages where comparable lodgings cost $3,400. So the Secret Service is not just not getting the rooms basically for free, as Eric Trump suggested—
“If my father travels, they stay at our properties for free — meaning, like, cost for housekeeping,” Trump’s son Eric said in a Yahoo Finance interview last year.
—they're paying extortionate rents of anywhere from 100% to 300% over market rate. Which is what makes it unarguably illegal: because you might say he has a right to take his days off wherever he wants, and the Secret Service has to protect him wherever he chooses to go, as they do other presidents but he doesn't have a right to profiteer off it, certainly not in secrecy.
Other recent presidents have allowed the Secret Service to use their properties — George H.W. Bush’s compound in Maine, Bill Clinton’s home in suburban New York, George W. Bush’s ranch in Texas — free, according to the Secret Service and spokespeople for those former presidents.
The Post could find only one other recent example of a president or vice president charging his own Secret Service rent. Former vice president Joe Biden charged $2,200 a month for a cottage on his property in Delaware. Unlike the payments to Trump, Biden’s payments were listed in public spending databases. Biden was paid a total of $171,600 over six years.
And when you consider how many days off Trump takes—around a third of his presidency so far, and almost all of it at places where he's the landlord—

—you begin to get the picture that the presidenting (for which he famously gives his salary back to the government) is a hobby, and golfing (and overseeing the businesses of which he is sole proprietor) is his primary occupation. Except being president is an opportunity to bring in all these captive customers from the U.S. government.

Not that it really matters, of course, but I can prove to my own satisfaction that Trump is violating the Constitution practically every weekend and holiday, when he spends it golfing on his courses and schmoozing with his customers and counting the money moving straight from the Secret Service into his coffers, a quarter of a million dollars (or a 25% profit over the $200,000 in salary he relinquished over the period) in the first six months of his presidency.

Added to the $400,000 spent at Trump properties during the same period by the Defense and State and Commerce departments during the same period, and however much he was getting by diverting Air Force refueling missions to Prestwick Airport in Scotland and having the crew spend the night at his Turnberry resort, it starts to look like a pretty good deal.

And that's just the prohibited domestic emoluments; there's also the total mystery of the foreign emoluments in violation of Article 1 section 9 clause 8, whatever Saudi and UAE and Qatari officials and officials from other countries spend at his properties (Trump Organization gave $343,000 to the Treasury for 2017 and 2018 representing its profits from foreign governments, but with no accounting of any kind to explain what the number meant, so I figure it doesn't mean anything at all, other than "Please shut up about this"). And the bribe-like spending of Republican organizations and individuals, especially at the Washington hotel, which may be perfectly legal, but is money he wouldn't be making if he weren't president.

As Mike the Mad Biologist and Steve M both said yesterday, Trump's profiteering off the presidency ought to have been an impeachment article. That's what I was saying September, as a matter of fact—

Later on I too got really excited over the Ukraine case, but now it seems to me I was right in the first place, and Steve's right now when he explains:
Presidential buckraking is extremely easy to understand: Trump takes advantage of his office to channel money to his own businesses. Presidents aren't supposed to personally profit from the presidency. Some of this money comes from foreign governments. The Constitution specifically forbids that [as it also forbids excess money from our own government]. To comprehend this, you don't need to have a grasp on geopolitics. Also, when Trump pockets this money he can't claim to be engaging in a noble act, the way he can when he says he's very concerned about corruption in Ukraine.
It was the House Oversight Committee under the late Elijah Cummings that was mostly working on these matters, and I don't know to what extent they still are, but it's still not too late to write up the impeachment articles and float them, and in any case Democratic candidates for all federal offices need to be talking about it, as David Fahrenthold keeps coming up with more astounding data.

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