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Investigation: Trump businesses received millions from foreign governments

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In the not-too-distant past, the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution was relatively obscure to the public. Donald Trump changed all of that.

As we’ve discussed many times, the clause prohibits U.S. officials from receiving payments from foreign governments. Traditionally, this hasn’t been much of a problem for sitting American presidents. During the Trump era, however, it became one of the Republican’s under-appreciated controversies.

While serving as president, Trump owned a hotel that sat roughly a half-mile from the White House, which hosted international officials with some regularity. As we’ve discussed, the result was a dynamic in which foreign governments spent quite a bit of money at a Trump-owned property, to the benefit of the then-American president and his private-sector enterprise.

The Republican had some vague understanding that the Constitution prevented him from receiving payments from foreign governments — Trump referred to the legal provision as “phony“ for reasons he never explained — but he did it anyway.

The former president has sold the hotel, but the scope of his alleged wrongdoing continues to come into sharper focus. The New York Times reported:

Donald J. Trump’s businesses received at least $7.8 million from 20 foreign governments during his presidency, according to new documents released by House Democrats on Thursday that show how much he received from overseas transactions while he was in the White House, most of it from China.

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee unveiled the results of an investigation in a lengthy, 156-page report called “White House For Sale.” Relying on documents from Mazars USA, Trump’s former accounting firm, congressional researchers determined that the Republican’s businesses received “at least“ $7.8 million from 20 foreign governments.

What’s more, the scope of the examination was relatively narrow: Oversight Committee Democrats focused only on four Trump-owned properties: Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York, and Trump World Tower at 845 United Nations Plaza in New York.

In other words, foreign governments might also have poured money into other businesses owned by the Republican — while he was in office — but those expenditures weren’t included in this investigation.

“[T]oday’s report makes clear that former President Trump put lining his pockets with cash from foreign governments seeking policy favors over the interests of the American people,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, the committee’s ranking member, said in a statement. The Maryland Democrat added that the Republican “repeatedly and willfully violated the U.S. Constitution by failing to divest from his business empire and allowing his businesses to accept millions of dollars in payments from some of the most corrupt nations on earth.”

If you’re wondering how Trump got away with this, it’s worth noting that the emoluments controversy worked its way to the U.S. Supreme Court — which rejected the matter just days after the Republican left office, saying Trump’s departure rendered the matter moot.

Stepping back, there’s also a broader, ongoing question to keep in mind, which likely influenced those who wrote the “White House For Sale” report: As GOP lawmakers search in desperation for evidence that President Joe Biden took foreign money while in office, congressional investigators have now documented the fact that Trump’s business empire — which he owned and benefited from during his presidency — took in millions of dollars from foreign governments while in office.

Or put another way, Trump did the very thing that Republicans have falsely accused Biden of doing.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.

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