The Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Washington DC Lawsuit Against Donald Trump

All the President’s Profits

Al Jazeera (2008)

Film Review

All the President’s Profits is a documentary about the current lawsuit again Donald Trump by the attorneys general of Washington DC and Maryland. The suit concerns the continued operation of the Trump International DC hotel, which they assert violates the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.* The latter expressly forbids any sitting president from personally accepting payments from foreign governments.

Since Trump’s election in 2016, many delegations from foreign governments have stayed in the DC Trump hotel or held lavish events there. In nearly all cases, their motives – to curry favor with the President (eg favorable trade deals, foreign/slash military aid packages, etc) – have been really obvious.

In framing the Constitution, the founding fathers sought to prevent foreign policy decisions that enabled sitting presidents to line their pockets to the detriment of the American people.

Trump is the first president in history to refuse to either divest himself of his businesses or to place them in a blind trust.* * Instead he has turned them over to his family to run. The lawsuit alleges he continues to have knowledge of and influence over the operation of the Trump DC hotel (he has visited the hotel 12 times since his election). He’s also able to draw profits from it any time he chooses.

The lawsuit seeks to force him to divulge exactly which foreign governments have stayed or entertained there and how much they have paid for this privilege. It also seeks to make his tax returns public.

The US Justice Department is defending him against the suit.


*Foreign Emoluments Clause: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, 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” (from Article I).

**A blind trust prevents a business owner from having any knowledge, influence or benefit from the operation of their business.