Donald Trump risks breaching US constitution on day one, George Bush’s former ethics lawyer warns

The President-elect reportedly entertained a group of 100 foreign diplomats with food, a tour and a sales pitch – it could violate the ‘Emoluments Clause’

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The Independent US

Two top law professors have urged Donald Trump to divest from his new hotel in Washington DC after it was used to entertain and give a sales pitch to foreign diplomats, potentially violating the US constitution as soon as he enters office.

Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who was chief ethics counsel to George W Bush, told Think Progress that the President-elect could be in breach of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits presidents from buying influence with federal officials or receiving special treatment.

The clause states: “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.”

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Mr Painter explained that Mr Trump and diplomats can do business, but if they pay over “fair market value” it is considered a “gift”, breaching the constitution.

As Mr Trump trades on the value of his own name, diplomats would arguably be staying in his hotel to benefit from the “added value” of doing business with the US president.

A spokesperson for the Trump Hotel in Washington DC could not be reached by The Independent to confirm that the group of 100 diplomats had attended the hotel on Friday evening.

“It had better stop by January 20,” said Mr Painter.

He advised the President-elect to sell the hotel or give it to his children and pay the gift tax before his inauguration. Mr Trump opened the hotel on 12 September, in front of the nation’s cameras. 

While it would be unlikely for the constitution to be used against him or for another Washington DC hotel to sue Mr Trump, Mr Painter said one possible result for Mr Trump could be impeachment.

Laurence Tribe, professor of law at Harvard University, agreed with Mr Painter.

He said that Mr Trump was “uniquely suable” as, contrary to his predecessors, he has business competitors.

The potential ongoing conflicts of interest come despite Mr Trump vowing that his children would manage a “blind trust” to house his business assets once he enters the White House.

Mr Trump frequently lambasted the Clinton Foundation on the campaign trail, saying it was not clear where the Clinton Foundation ended and the state department began.

Incoming Vice-president Mike Pence was asked on Fox News whether the Trump Organisation would become like the Clinton Foundation “on steroids”.

“I am very confident, working with the best legal minds in the country, that the President-elect and his family will create the proper separation from his business as he goes forward,” he said.

Mr Trump has already come under scrutiny for allowing his eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, to sit in on a first meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with Japanese prime minster Shinzo Abe

He has denied that he tried to obtain security clearances for his children and son-in-law to gain access to highly classified briefings.

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