Lawmakers accused President Trump of violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause after Reuters reported that at least seven foreign governments rented luxury condos at Trump World Tower in New York without congressional approval.
The State Department allowed the governments to lease condos at the 90-story skyscraper but lawmakers on Capitol Hill say the transactions had to be approved by Congress and were never submitted for approval.
“This new information raises serious questions about the President and his businesses’ potential receipt of payments from foreign governments,” House Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told Reuters. “The American public deserves full transparency.” Cummings added that the Trump administration has “stonewalled” the panel’s attempt to get details about the payments.
Reporters researching the story were stonewalled too. When Reuters reached out to the State Department for comment, the agency directed reporters to the Justice Department, claiming the issue involved “matters related to ongoing litigation.” The Justice Department refused to comment. The White House referred questions to the State Department and the Trump Organization, which also did not comment.
State Department records obtained by Reuters show that foreign governments took a particular interest in renting the condos after Trump took office. Within eight months of the president’s inauguration, foreign governments submitted 13 requests to the State Department to rent or renew leases at Trump World Tower. Those 13 requests were more than the State Department had received in the previous two years combined.
The State Department allowed the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Malaysia, Thailand, Slovakia and the European Union to rent eight units in the skyscraper. It’s unclear whether the department approved three other requests from Kuwait as well as requests from Algeria and South Korea.
The median monthly rent at Trump World Tower in 2017 was $8,500, more than 2.5 times higher than the median rent in the surrounding neighborhood.
Yale Law School professor Harold Hongju Koh, a former legal adviser at the State Department, told Reuters that allowing these transactions without congressional approval sets a dangerous precedent.
“Letting this go without Congress knowing about it condones the creation of a second, opaque track of foreign policy,” he said. “What it might lead to is a group of countries enriching the people in power on the mistaken belief that it’s going to improve their access.”
Trump’s income from foreign governments since taking office is the subject of multiple lawsuits alleging that he is in violation of the emoluments clause, which bars gifts from foreign states.
The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia are suing Trump, alleging that the Trump International Hotel in Washington illegally draws business from foreign governments at the expense of surrounding businesses. According to Reuters, Trump personally earned more than $15 million in management and related fees in 2017.
Attorneys for the federal government have argued that the company’s profits do not violate the Constitution, asserting that the emoluments clause only applies to gifts and payments made directly to the president. On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled in favor of Democrats in another emoluments case, writing that Trump’s argument to dismiss the suit was “unpersuasive and inconsistent.”
“The only way the Clause can achieve its purpose is for the President to seek and obtain the consent of Congress before he accepts foreign Emoluments,” wrote U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan. The lawsuit brought by Democratic lawmakers, Sullivan said, “is directly related to the only way the Clause can achieve its purpose.”