No one likes feeling ripped off, yet that is exactly how I feel after four years of Donald Trump. He and his minions have stuck their hand into our pockets in order to line their own. I am tired of greedy little piggies. What has Trump done (don’t we all have outrage fatigue?), what can we do about it, and how do we prevent such abject corruption in the future?
First, China. While Trump recently tried to claim without evidence that Vice President Biden had received millions from China, it is Trump and his family who has benefited. Forbes estimates that China has paid Trump at least $5.4 million through a lease at Trump Towers. Trump has a bank account in China through which Trump paid the Chinese government at least $200,000 in taxes from 2013–2015 while likely evading taxes in the U.S. A businesswoman with alleged ties to China purchased a $16 million penthouse at Trump Park Avenue. Shortly after Trump announced he would back Beijing’s “One China” policy, China awarded Trump a 10-year trademark deal. Ivanka Trump was granted China trademarks during a dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, and China granted Ivanka Trump’s company preliminary approval for five more trademarks amid trade negotiations between China and the United States. Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, has used his position to seek Chinese investment in his real estate business despite warnings from the intelligence community that his dealings posed security risks.
China is not the only beneficiary. The New York Times uncovered more than 200 companies, special interest groups and foreign governments that patronized Trump properties and in exchange received benefits from the U.S. government, including, “funding, laws and land.” More than 70 groups threw parties at Trump properties. Those properties include his golf resorts in Florida, New Jersey, Scotland and Ireland, and his hotels in Washington, D.C., New York and elsewhere. Trump held 34 fundraisers at his hotels and resorts that grossed $3 million for the Trump businesses.
Trump has visited his golf resorts and hotels 280 times for 400 days, more than one-quarter of his presidency, especially trips to Mar-a-Lago in Florida and Bedminister in New Jersey. Taxpayers have had to pay for his accommodations and food, as well as for the staff and security accompanying him. The government has paid at least $2.5 millions dollars to Trump’s businesses. Trump’s Bedminister club, for example, charges the secret service $17,000 per month from May through November each year for use of a cottage whether the President is there or not.
Trump doubled the membership dues at Mar-a-Lago to $200,000 after becoming President and those seeking access willingly paid. Trump hosted a New Year’s party at Mar-a-Lago selling hundreds of tickets at $500 and much higher. The State Department and two U.S. Embassies have promoted Mar-a-Lago on their websites with a 400-word blog post.
Trump has also promoted his Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. Shortly after the election in 2016, Kuwait canceled a planned event at the Four Seasons hotel and moved it to the Trump hotel. Within a month of the 2016 election, Saudi-funded lobbyists booked 500 nights at the Trump hotel in Washington, spending more than $270,000. Morgan Stanley and Deloitte held conferences there spending $500,000 between the two companies. The Washington Post reported that Attorney General William Barr booked a 200-guest holiday party in December at Trump’s hotel in Washington. Trump’s D.C. hotel has become a go-to meeting place for Washington Republican insiders. The president held his reelection campaign kick-off event at his Washington hotel, charging $35,000 per person. Reports say Republican campaigns and PACs spent at least $3.2 million at Trump-owned and branded properties in the two years leading up to the midterms. Sen. Chuck Grassley attended a National Railroad Construction Dinner at the hotel that also served Trump coffee and Trump Vineyards wine.
Trump has promoted his golf resort at Doral as well. Trump tried to host the 2020 Group of Seven Summit at his Doral golf resort until he faced overwhelming backlash and in an uncharacteristic act, backed down. The Republican National Committee hosted an annual winter meeting at the Trump National Doral, CNN reported. GEO Group, a giant private-prison company that is profiting by holding detainees at the border, held an annual leadership conference at Trump National Doral.
Vice President Pence, his family, and security detail went out of there way to stay at Trump’s Irish property Doonbeg, rather than in Dublin where he was scheduled for meetings. Eric Trump led private tours of the Trump golf clubs in Ireland and Scotland, but the taxpayer had to pay those clubs for the stays by the Secret Service.
It is not just Trump’s golf resorts and hotels that have benefited from Trump’s presidency, so have his luxury apartments. It’s reported that the government of Qatar bought a $6.5 million apartment in New York’s Trump World Tower in January, soon after an emoluments lawsuit was thrown out. Reuters reported that the State Department allowed seven foreign governments to rent condominiums in New York’s Trump World Tower in 2017 without the required approval from Congress. Reuters also reported that Russian oligarchs invested nearly $100 million in Trump luxury towers in South Florida.
This compendium of self-dealing doesn’t address possible tax fraud and evasion by Mr. Trump, which could be cleared up or revealed if he released his tax returns as all other modern President have. It doesn’t answer the pressing question as to whom Trump owes nearly one-half billion dollars in four years, loans that he personally guaranteed. It doesn’t address the extent to which the U.S. government has been compromised by foreign influence. It doesn’t describe how much Trump has benefited by the tax cuts he gave to himself and his rich friends, though he told the members at Mar-a-Lago, “You all just got a lot richer.” What it lays out, however, is how Trump is one of the most corrupt Presidents in U.S. history.
Trump has violated in spades the constitutional prohibition that a President cannot use his office for his personal financial gain. The emoluments clause was intended to ensure that U.S. leaders would not enrich themselves as kings, queens and emperors had in Europe. So, what can be done when Trump is no longer emperor?
First, the government should demand that Trump keep his promise made in 2017 that he would donate all hotel profits from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury. The government should extend that promise to include all profits made from any individual, corporation, or special interest group that sought favor.
Second, Congress should pass the For the People Act that would fortify ethics laws requiring Presidents to disclose their tax returns, give teeth to the Office of Governments Ethics and close loopholes for lobbyists and foreign agents. The House passed the bill, but Senator McConnell has let it languish along with 400 other House passed bills.
Third, Congress should pass the Protecting Our Democracy Act introduced in the House of Representatives in September. The bill would enforce the domestic and foreign emoluments clauses that Trump has violated with impunity. It would strengthen Hatch Act enforcement to ensure employees of the executive branch do not use their office for political activities.
Fourth, there should be a comprehensive review of corruption during the Trump Administration. Oversight should be done by Inspectors General in each agency, by Congressional oversight hearings, and a bipartisan anti-corruption commission. The next Attorney General and the U.S. Attorneys should investigate and prosecute corruption cases without fear or favor. Only criminal accountability will deter future malfeasance.
Trump has monetized the presidency more than any other in history. While the Teapot Dome scandal under President Warren Harding ranks high, the malodorous behavior of Trump and his fellow grifters is highly rank. Should Biden win the election, his first act as President should be to tell the American people through word and deed that he will restore American democracy, because without a strong and vigorous democracy, corruption will entrench and nothing else will be achieved.