The campaign of now President-elect Donald Trump did severe damage to his brand around the world, which he spent decades building. The occupancy of Trump’s hotels were falling, and even his daughter’s clothing line was pulled from the shelves of various suppliers who could not stand to lose business over the ensuing boycotts which have plagued Trump’s business. The prevailing wisdom was that after Trump lost the election, his business would never be the same. However, that is not how the situation played out. Instead of Trump’s businesses failing, they are now thriving better than ever which is creating a both an ethical and constitutional crisis. Foreign diplomats are now flocking to Trump’s businesses around the globe because they wish to gain favor with Trump, and they are doing so by spending their money on him. This is probably illegal and at the very least unethical.
One foreign diplomat said, “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 diplomat’s position has been echoed by hundreds of others. This is a problem according to University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, who was the chief ethical counselor to President George W. Bush. Painter said in allowing these diplomats to stay in his hotels it creates a conflict of interest in the Constitution’s “Emoluments Clause.” The clause says:
No person holding any office of profit or trust under the United States shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.
The debate raging presently is if the diplomats staying in Trump’s hotels constitutes normal business, or if their staying is actually supposed to be a gift to Trump. At the moment Trump’s room rates have skyrocketed to deal with the increased demand. This is a problem according to Painter, because presidents are not allowed to accept gifts, and foreign diplomats staying in the hotels is a gift if they are paying over the value of the room. He said, “Anything in excess of fair market value is a gift and I don’t think you can take into account the value of the name Trump in calculating fair market value.”
The issue for those seeking to use this as a wedge issue against Trump is going to be proving that the diplomats would have stayed in a hotel other than Trumps. The United States allows its citizens and visitors to conduct themselves in any manner they wish, and the diplomats are not forced to disclose their financial dealings. If they are not forced to disclose that information, how will it be possible to prove they were spending with money to Trump as a gift? Time will tell as this issue is not going away anytime soon.