Ethics attorneys for the past two presidents said that if President-elect Donald Trump doesn't relinquish control of his foreign business interests, the Electoral College should reject the citizens' votes and deny Trump the White House.
“The founders did not want any foreign payments to the president. Period," Norman Eisen, who served as chief ethics counsel for President Obama, wrote in an email to ThinkProgress. The principle is according to Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, which bars office holders from accepting “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
The “Emolument Clause” says that “no person holding any office of profit or trust” shall “accept of any present, emolument, office or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state” without congressional approval.
Eisen said that Trump's widespread business operations, even his D.C. hotel, could be a problem because foreign government officials can choose to stay there and indirectly, yet purposefully, make a cash payment to the President.
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“Whenever Mr. Trump receives anything from a foreign sovereign, to the extent that it’s not an arm’s-length transaction,” Eisen told the New York Times. “Every dollar in excess that they pay over the fair market price will be a dollar paid in violation of the Emoluments Clause and will be a present to Mr. Trump.”
But how to apply the Emolument Clause to Trump could prove tricky because there hasn't been much precedent, something which is itself problematic, according to Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, who ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2016 and lost.
“The reason we don’t really have a lot of precedent here is that presidents in the past have gone out of their way to avoid getting even close to the Emoluments Clause,” Teachout told the New York Times.