Nov 23, 2016 (San Diego) President-elect Donald Trump made a statement to the New York Times yesterday that sounded Nixonian, he cannot have any conflict of interest under the laws passed by Congress. He is correct. Many of the ethics laws that apply to other officers in the United States government, do not apply to the President. One reason for that is the Contistution. Here is the clause that actually applies.
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.
ARTICLE I, SECTION 9, CLAUSE 8
Now it is time to explain the English here. emolument means payment or profit, or power. This is in the Constitution. When the president elect has conversations with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe and his daugher Ivanka sits on it, that could be perceived as a violation of this clause.
When the president elect aproaches Nigel Farage, head of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) to help him stop the wind farm off his golf course in Scottland, that could be seen as profit for his business. This is incidentally something that very wealthy people do not like outside their properties and the Trump organization took their case all the way to the Scottish Supreme Court and they lost.
When his children have access to United States intelligence, since he has requested they have clearances, they can act as a business in line with that intelligence. Donald Trump making deals for the United States, even with the best of intentions, will be seen under the magnifying glass of what is in it for the Trump organization. Him asking the Argentinian goverment to act in favor of his business, is an indirect payment.
This clause is not dead letter either. The Department of Justice does use it regularly. This is why laws have never been passed to specifically aply to the President, or the Vice President. It is encoded into the founding documents. There is also a long list of ehtics rules that do indirectly apply to the executive.
Now there is a bigger picture. As the United States has developed into an oligarchy, people have used the revolving door to enrich themselves. When this is mentioned, partisans immediately scream Clinton Foundation. That is just one example, (which incidentally won’t be prosecuted). There are others less obvious examples. Treasury is textbook of this, with members of the top tier of the banking industry taking the post as Treasury Secreatary and then going back to the banks. There is no way to regulate an industry that you are part off and expect to go back to. This has been going on under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
There are other examples in the government.
What is true, is that right now we are crossing straight into a Kleptocracy, where top level government officials enrich themselves, or their family and close friends, though their service in the government, and at times extract money from the treasurey and transfer to their own use. This is exactly what that clause is designed to prevent. It is designed to also prevent foreign influence in the business of state.
This might generate a constitutional crisis. Though we sincreely doubt it. With the governemnt controlled by one party, they are not going to call on the president for those conflicts of interest. In a less partisan age they might have. If the U.S House means to clean corruption up, they should call for hearings, just as they surely would if Hillary Clinton was elected. The conflicts, and likely personal enrichement, are similar.