Did George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or James Madison sell agricultural products to a foreign government “instrumentality?”
It’s hard to say, since their surviving plantation records don’t speak to the question. But the Department of Justice, which is defending Donald Trump against a suit filed by various parties including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), argues that it’s quite likely they did – and this assertion, seemingly arcane more than 200 years later and given the tumultuous state of the world, is key to the all-important question of whether President Trump is breaking the law.
CREW and its co-plaintiffs argue that the president stands in clear violation of the Constitution’s “emolument’s clause,” a provision stipulating that no federal official “shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” In plain English, does Trump’s sprawling business empire benefit directly from commercial agreements with foreign governments or entities chartered by or representing foreign governments? And if so, is he in violation of the Constitution?