Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The United States' "Grifter-in-Chief"

The framers of the U.S. Constitution thought it important enough to put in a specific clause, the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from receiving cash or gifts from foreign persons or governments.    That's actually written into our founding document, which on most things does not go into such detail.

With DJT in office less than 60 days, that little clause has already been the subject of great consternation.   Because our "Grifter-in-Chief" [grifter = con man] refuses to divest himself from ownership in his businesses, questions naturally arise as to potential conflicts of interest.

Will presidential decisions be made for the good of the American people or for personal profit?   Will foreign governments patronize his businesses in order to gain favor in governmental decisions?    Could financial interests be used as pressure, even blackmail, to gain favor in contracts or in more serious decisions affecting our national security?   What does Trump owe to Russians that could be used as pressure on him to grant favor to Putin? 

The argument against divestment takes note of the nature of DJT's businesses, much of the which, in recent years, is not something concrete that could be sold or put into a blind trust.   Much of the income comes from licensing the brand name to put on hotels and office buildings or products around the world.   If you can't use the Trump name, there's little incentive to pay Trump millions of dollars.

In my view, the avoidance of such conflict of interest is so important that it should not be negotiable.   If a person cannot make that commitment, they should not run for the office.  Like so many things, this is being tested by this presidency.   Here's what's going on.

There is already evidence, commonly played out in the media, of foreign diplomats and business leaders deliberately and ostentatiously booking DJT's hotels and resorts specifically to curry favor with him.   They brag about it -- obviously, they want him to know.  And he, in turn, has touted his hotels and encouraged just such bookings.

The latest case in point is the new hotel, which was created by renovating the old Federal Post Office building, strategically located along Pennsylvania Avenue on the way to the White House.   It was the place to stay for the inauguration, and DJT touted it as such.  That is a conflict of interest.   He is also violating the contract of his lease on this government owned property, which stipulates that a government employee cannot lease government property.   Are we just going to ignore that violation?   The government could actually declare him in violation of his contract and could take it away from him.

Even moreso, DJT's Florida resort Mar-a-Lago, where he spends half his weekends, includes a private club where members are likely to run into the president himself.   What better chance access for some corporate mogul who wants a favor?   Is there any wonder that membership fees have suddenly been hiked -- by the Trump Organization -- from $100,000 to $200,000?    It is an ideal place to schedule events, like charity fund-raising galas.   And the owner (DJT) rakes in hundreds of thousands from a single event.

And this grifter-in-chief has the gall to have accused his opponent HRC and her family foundation of engaging in "pay for play."    Is it clear what I'm saying?   Our president's businesses are currently being paid huge sums of money by people who want to gain access to him, to impress their clients by holding events at the president's resorts and golf clubs, and to then be able to name-drop and impress the world that they belong to DJT's club and see him regularly at Mar-a-Lago.

The other aspect to this monetizing of the presidency involves travel expenses for the Secret Service who protect the large and travel-ready family clan.   All the immediate family are scattered (DJT himself divides his time between the White House and Mar-a-Lago); Mrs. DJT (occupies the penthouse in the midst of Manhattan but travels regularly to join DJT in D.C. or Florida);  Don, Jr. and Eric (who live separately in New York but travel frequently to join their father or for business);  and Ivanka and Jared (who bought a house for their growing family in D.C.).

One short business trip by Eric alone cost taxpayers almost $100,000 for travel and hotel expenses for the Secret Service who must travel with Eric, even when it's for his commercial business or pleasure trips.  And he's just one of many in the president's immediate family who are (quite rightly) granted Secret Service protection.

The U.S. now rents a full floor in Trump Tower from the DJT Organization for its military and Secret Service command center for when the president visits his New York home.  That costs taxpayers $1.5 million a year to rent the space -- and the rent goes to -- yes, the Trump Organization.   ThinkProgress reports that each trip to Mar-a-Lago reportedly costs taxpayers $3 million.

But now a Democratic member of the House of Representatives, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has introduced a bill that, if passed, would bring some relief.   It's called the "No Taxpayer Revenue Used to Monetize the Presidency" Act.  The catchy  acronym?  "No Trump."

This bill would prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars for events, overnight stays, food or other expenses at hotels owned or operated by a president or his relatives."

Bravo!   It's chances of passing are zilch, with this Republican controlled Congress.   But it focuses the problem with laser sharpness.   Let's see that it gets its due amount of public airing.

Besides its clever jabs at this particular president, it makes sense to deny presidents the ability to use the office for personal gain.   And it would apply to any president.  It just happens to hit this one hard because he has so many hotels and resorts and golf clubs to take advantage of.   And they are all very expensive.   I wonder now whether he has the audacity to charge taxpayers for his own stay at Mar-a-Lago? 


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