Donald Trump declared that if he were elected president, he would “drain the swamp” in Washington. But it’s been amply established that he’s actually overflowing it due to his own stratospheric conflicts of interest. According to two former White House ethics lawyers, he’s overflowed it to an extent that it’s the most unethical administration in recent history.
The effort to sound the alarm on Trump’s conflicts of interest has been led by a bipartisan alliance of ethics lawyers–Richard Painter, the chief ethics counsel under George W. Bush, and Norman Eisen, a top ethics counsel in the early part of Barack Obama’s administration. They lent their names to a scathing report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington–of which Eisen is chairman and Painter is vice-chairman.
“For virtually every decision President Trump makes…the American people cannot be sure whether he made his decision in the public interest or to benefit his bottom line.”https://t.co/SB6RxK6j2h
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) January 17, 2018
Eisen and Painter discussed the report on NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Wednesday morning. Eisen reminded host Steve Inskeep that almost a year earlier, he and Painter had warned that Trump was about to commit the “original sin” of politics–taking office with “crippling conflicts” that would manifest whenever he makes a decision that could impact his real estate empire. If he went that route, Eisen believed his conflicts would “creep like a cancer through his presidency.” As he sees it, that prediction has come to pass several times over.
But wait a minute. Trump says that it’s not possible for the president to have conflicts of interest. When Inkseep recalled this claim, Painter said that while the president is exempt from a federal statute that forbids action on any matter that has a “direct, predictable effect” on personal financial interests, he is not exempt from the Emoluments Clause. That provision explicitly forbids government officials from receiving benefits from foreign governments.
Eisen and Painter have been beating the drum on Trump’s Emoluments Clause violations for over a year. Painter reiterated his and Eisen’s view that the Founding Fathers “did not want anybody, including the president” from benefiting from deals with foreign governments. As we all know, Trump continues to allow the proceeds from past deals with foreign governments and state-owned companies to flow into his bank account. Therefore, Painter, Eisen, and other ethics experts and constitutional scholars believe that as a result, Trump was violating the Constitution literally from the moment he took office.
Painter believes this is one of many “serious violations of the Constitution” on Trump’s part, and believes that we need to look at Trump’s corruption from a constitutional prism. Eisen agreed, saying that when a president is committing constitutional violations from the moment he is sworn in, his administration is almost certainly going to turn into “a free-for-all.”
Said free-for-all is well underway, according to Painter. He believes the issue with Trump isn’t just ethics violations. He believes Trump is launching all-out assaults on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, “and we cannot have a president who does not respect the Constitution.”
Calling Trump’s Emoluments Clause violations a “cancer” is more than apt. When a president violates the Constitution from the moment he is sworn in, it should surprise no one when his presidency is one outrage piled on top of another on almost a daily basis. But then again, there was enough even without his massive conflicts of interest to predict that this would happen.
(featured image courtesy Michael Vadon, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)