Two civil rights groups – Free Speech For People and RootsAction.org – have launched an online petition calling on Congress to initiate an impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump’s alleged violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause and Domestic Emoluments Clause, as well as violations of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012 (STOCK Act).
“Democracy means that no one is above the law. And the United States Constitution is ‘the supreme law of the land.’ We now face the choice of whether to allow the new president to violate the Constitution,” said Norman Solomon, Co-Founder and Coordinator of RootsAction.org, “Democracy is at stake,” he added.
“Given President Donald Trump’s refusal to divest fully from his business interests, he is now in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution,” said John Bonifaz, Co-Founder and President of Free Speech For People.
The two groups have launched a website calling for Trump’s impeachment.
The groups says that President Trump’s personal and business holdings in the United States and abroad present unprecedented conflicts of interest. Indeed, President Trump has admitted he has conflicts of interest in some cases. For example, the Trump Organization has licensing deals with two Trump Towers in Istanbul, and has received up to $10 million from developers since 2014. President Trump admitted in a radio interview that “I have a little conflict of interest, because I have a major, major building in Istanbul.”
Some of these business arrangements may violate the U.S. Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, which provides: “[N]o 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 purpose of this provision is to prevent foreign influence or corruption. “Emoluments” from foreign governments include “any conferral of a benefit or advantage, whether through money, objects, titles, offices, or economically valuable waivers or relaxations of otherwise applicable requirements,” even including “ordinary, fair market value transactions that result in any economic profit or benefit to the federal officeholder.”
“The President was warned that he had to make a choice between continuing to own his conflict-ridden businesses, many of which receive money from foreign governments, or serving as President of the United States,” said Ron Fein, Legal Director of Free Speech For People.
“He was warned that if he did not divest his businesses, he would be violating the Constitution from the moment he took the oath of office. He had over seventy days to choose, and he chose to violate the Constitution. Public service is a public trust, and he’s abusing that trust to line his own pockets,” said Fein.
The groups believe that there is sufficient basis to investigate other potentially impeachable violations as well. First, the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012 (STOCK Act) is one of the few federal ethics statutes that specifically includes the President. Among other provisions, it prohibits the President from (1) using nonpublic information for private profit, and from (2) intentionally influencing an employment decision or practice of a private entity solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation.
Second, the Constitution’s Domestic Emoluments Clause provides: “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased 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.” This provision, which is not waivable by Congress, protects against Congress itself, or any state, making, withholding, or threatening to withhold additional compensation beyond his fixed federal salary. For example, since 1980, Mr. Trump and his business have “reaped at least $885 million in tax breaks, grants and other subsidies for luxury apartments, hotels and office buildings in New York.”
“A serious impeachment effort in Congress, especially a successful one, would very likely move the United States from the most to the least corrupt president in many years,” said David Swanson, Campaign Coordinator for RootsAction.org. “Presidents serving in the wake of a Trump impeachment will be on notice that they are not above the law. That’s a change that’s badly needed, and the highest law in the land has a built-in mechanism to make it happen, if Congress can find the nerve to impeach,” he concluded.
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