While we were all busy with the Cohen FBI raid yesterday, two big stories broke that got little attention but that could mean major legal trouble for Donald Trump.
When Donald Trump took office, he refused to divest himself from his business interests. And now that foolish move is coming back to bite him.
There are two big financial stories this week that look really bad for Trump.
1. A Ukrainian billionaire gave Trump $150,000 during the campaign.
The New York Times reported on Monday that, during the campaign, the Trump Foundation got a $150,000 “donation” from a billionaire in Ukraine in exchange for a video appearance from Trump. Trump’s personal shady lawyer Michael Cohen, who’s having a particularly bad week, “solicited the donation.”
The Washington Post points out several problems with this.
“If this is actually payment for services, it is income for Trump and should have been reported as such. If diverting the money to the foundation was an attempt to evade taxes or banking laws, federal laws may very well have been broken. Federal campaign finance laws may also have been violated if this was in essence a way to help Trump’s campaign. (Foreigners are prevented from donating to a campaign.)”
Remember all of the attacks on Hillary during the campaign for money she got from speeches? And Hillary stopped giving paid speeches once she started running for president. And remember how he attacked her foundation? Everything Trump ever said about her pales in comparison to the corruption he’s involved in now.
2. The Trump Organization is pressuring foreign countries.
Monday night, the Washington Post reported,
“Lawyers representing President Trump’s company last month wrote directly to the president of Panama, asking him to intervene in a legal fight over the Trump International Hotel in the capital — and warning that the case could have “repercussions” for Panama’s reputation.
The law firm, Panama-based Britton and Iglesias, wrote in Spanish to President Juan Carlos Varela on March 22 to “urgently request your influence in relation to a commercial dispute regarding the Trump hotel.”
At the time, the majority owner of the Trump hotel — Cypriot-born investor Orestes Fintiklis — had kicked out the Trump Organization as the hotel’s manager, after a ruling from a low-level Panamanian judge. The president’s company was seeking to retake control.
The request was extraordinary: The U.S. president’s company was asking the leader of a U.S. ally to intercede on its behalf, disregarding Panama’s separation of powers.”
If Panama gives in to the Trump Organization, it will be a perfect example of the sort of thing that the emoluments clause forbids.
Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe explains it like this:
“Trump’s refusal to sever his all-entangling business ties throughout the world when he became president was and continues to be both a clear violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause and a profound threat to our nation’s security, which depends on having a president whose only allegiance is to the United States and its people, including of course our Constitution and laws. The way lawyers from the Trump Organization and its often opaque network of nested corporations blatantly intervened in U.S.-Panama relations last month was a classic example of what we get when we elect a president with no respect for the separation of his own and his family’s economic interests from the conduct of America’s foreign policy.”
Even if Panama refuses to help Trump’s business, this presents an unbelievable conflict of interest between national interests and Trump’s personal interests. Trump and his family are using public office to threaten a foreign government.
“We are seeing Trump behave as a sort of third-world kleptocrat using power to feather his own nest. It’s in the mode of Russian President Vladimir Putin and other autocrats who use political power not for the benefit of their country but to enrich themselves. When foreign governments or individuals connected to foreign governments are involved, the country’s national security interests are compromised. A president cannot possibly fulfill his oath of office and act as commander in chief when foreign governments are stuffing his businesses’ and foundation’s pockets.”
Both of these new scandals are bad. But the problem we face now as a country is that the Republican party controls Congress, and they clearly have no appetite for holding Trump accountable. If we want to restore the rule of law it is imperative that we elect Democrats in November. It’s the only way to stop this corruption.