May 1, 2019


The Justice Department Suddenly Changed Its Mind About the Constitution to Defend Trump's Businesses (KATHLEEN CLARK, 5/01/19, TIME)

When Justice Department lawyers introduce themselves in court, they proclaim a specific affiliation: "I represent the United States." That's because the Justice Department has the responsibility by statute to represent the interests of the nation. That obligation to act on behalf of the nation has also motivated the Department's legal advice on a question central to the integrity of our democracy -- until now. Recent arguments show that the Department is putting President Trump's interests before the nation's.

For more than 150 years, the Department interpreted the Constitution's "emoluments" clause to protect the government from the corrupting influence of foreign powers through gifts, emoluments and titles. The Department has issued more than 50 legal opinions declaring that the clause prohibits important federal officials from accepting anything of value -- even token gifts -- from such powers, unless Congress consents.

The prohibitions went further. Engineers and scientists who work for the federal government are prohibited from accepting any benefit (including consulting fees or travel reimbursement) that comes from a foreign government. The Department even prohibited a part-time federal employee who was also a partner in a law firm from accepting any money from the firm's legal work for foreign governments, even though he had not worked on those cases, because "the partnership would in effect be a conduit" for foreign governments. When it interpreted this constitutional clause, the Department explicitly examined whether the particular payment "would raise the kind of concern [i.e.,] the potential for 'corruption and foreign influence'... that motivated the Framers in enacting the constitutional prohibition." At every turn, the Justice Department was on the lookout to ensure that federal officials did not accept direct or indirect foreign government payments.

But starting two years ago, the Department veered away from this long track record.

Posted by at May 1, 2019 5:47 PM