There’s a growing realization that something is not right with President Trump. The president’s Twitter outbursts, bizarre fixations on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and TV ratings, the “investigation” into supposed fraud in his own election, and an ongoing circus of “alternative facts” point to a man not in full control of his faculties.
Yet there is a deeper problem: Donald Trump is profiting from the presidency at public expense. It’s immoral, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s grounds for impeachment.
The signs were there all along. In 2000, he told Fortune Magazine that “I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.” All through the 2016 campaign, he used others’ campaign contributions to reimburse himself, like by using donations to rent a campaign office in his own Trump Tower.
But this was child’s play. Trump owns, or receives licensing income, from 144 companies in 25 countries. And suddenly, Trump properties are hot among those who can flatter the president by becoming a customer, or helping a project along.
By the same token, a foreign government can control the president by threatening to harm his business interests. Consider the Trump Towers in Istanbul, Turkey. During the campaign, when Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, the president of Turkey proposed that Trump’s name be removed from the buildings. But then after Trump defended the Turkish president in the wake of a coup attempt, the matter was dropped.
President Trump’s plan to make a buck from the Oval Office is not just tawdry, it’s not just contemptible, and it’s not just unconstitutional—it’s grounds for removal.
Coincidence? Trump himself has admitted that, “I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul.” Did Trump defend the Turkish president because it was the right thing to do for the United States, or to protect his towers? We may never know.
Then when President Trump did issue his executive order on immigration, it covered seven predominantly Muslim countries. But it curiously omitted others, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or the United Arab Emirates, which accounted for 18 of the 19 terrorists in the September 11, 2001 attacks. There could be many reasons why some countries were included and others were excluded, but one common factor is that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE are countries with Trump businesses.
Coincidence? We may never know.
Every decision the president makes—including sending troops into harm’s way—will be under that same cloud of suspicion. Neither the American public, nor our allies, nor the world at large will be able to trust whether Trump acts in America’s interests or in Trump’s interests.
Consider the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.’s Old Post Office. Before the election, the hotel struggled to fill space. After the election, Trump told the New York Times that “occupancy at that hotel will be probably a more valuable asset now than it was before, O.K.? The brand is certainly a hotter brand than it was before.”
And not just with tourists. Trump’s hotel is now the hot new venue for foreign diplomatic delegations. For a foreign government, it’s an easy way to make a good impression. As one Asian diplomat explained, “Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?’”
The anodyne term “conflict of interest” doesn’t even begin to describe these problems.
Meanwhile, his Department of Defense plans to rent space in Trump Tower, his official White House spokesman promotes the Mar-a-Lago resort as the “Winter White House” just as it doubles initiation fees, the White House web site hawks the First Lady’s jewelry line, and she claims in a lawsuit that a newspaper ruined a “unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for her to capitalize on being First Lady by launching “a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories.”
The anodyne term “conflict of interest” doesn’t even begin to describe these problems. By continuing to own his businesses while he is president, Donald Trump is violating two separate provisions of the U.S. Constitution. He’s taking money from foreign governments, and he’s enriching himself from the public treasury.
Some say that we should give the president a chance. But America did give him a chance. During the ten weeks between the election and the inauguration, he was repeatedly warned by leading constitutional scholars and government ethics experts that, if he did not sell his businesses before assuming office, he would be violating the Constitution from the moment he was sworn in. He chose not to fix these problems. Instead, while he may have transferred control of his businesses to his children, he has maintained ownership of everything. He may not be signing the checks going out, but he’s depositing the checks coming in.
And in the meantime, his conduct during his short time in office suggests a casual indifference to the Constitution. For example, the state of Virginia was forced to file a motion to hold President Trump in contempt of court after his administration refused to comply with a federal court order requiring the government to allow lawyers to meet with lawful permanent residents who were detained because of his executive order on immigration. “Contempt” may be a legal term, but it provides a window into the president’s view of the Constitution more generally.
President Trump’s plan to make a buck from the Oval Office is not just tawdry, it’s not just contemptible, and it’s not just unconstitutional—it’s grounds for removal. The Framers of the Constitution may not have anticipated foreign governments bidding for royalties for The New Celebrity Apprentice, but they did understand the dangers of a president unjustly enriching himself at public expense. In fact, in a debate over the new Constitution in 1788, the Governor of Virginia explained how the Constitution would protect against outside influence over the president, and concluded: “If discovered, he may be impeached.”
That’s why Impeach Donald Trump Now has launched a campaign asking the House of Representatives to authorize an investigation into impeachment. In less than one month, over 850,000 people joined the movement, and on February 17, we delivered those petition signatures to U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin.
Just five days later, the City Council of Richmond, California unanimously passed a resolution (based on our model local resolution) calling on Congress to start an impeachment investigation. Other cities are following. And people around the country are letting their Members of Congress know that it’s time to open an investigation.
Some say impeachment will be hard in this partisan environment. They’re right—it will be hard. But the situation right now is fluid and unstable. There’s a reason that bookmakers are now giving fair odds on impeachment.
Men and women have fought, marched, and died to establish, defend, and improve our democracy. We insult their memories if we allow President Trump to cast dishonor on our republic with tawdry business schemes. Trump has chosen to soil the Oval Office. Let us now rise to defend the Constitution.