Donald Trump knows he’s in terrible trouble. It has made him a desperate man. He has accused Democrats who seek to hold him to account for manifest abuses of the office he holds of staging “a coup”—promoting constitutional scholars to explain that, in fact, the founders gave the Congress the power of impeachment to deal with presidents like him. Trump is tweeting, in a grotesque abuse of history and language, that a cautiously constructed impeachment inquiry is equivalent to “a lynching”—inspiring Representative Bobby Rush to respond: “You think this impeachment is a LYNCHING? What the hell is wrong with you? Do you know how many people who look like me have been lynched, since the inception of this country, by people who look like you. Delete this tweet.”
Congressional Black Caucus chair Karen Bass sees the connection between Trump’s desperation—as polls show half of Americans now favor his impeachment and removal from office—and his latest round of racially charged tweeting. “Whenever he has his back up against the wall,” she says, “he throws a racial bomb.”
Trump knows his back is against the wall. He understands where he is most vulnerable. Yes, of course, Trump is in trouble for abusing his position in an effort to get another country (or, perhaps, a number of other countries) to investigate a political rival. But he is really in trouble for abusing his position to enrich himself and his family. So the embattled president is ranting and raving about the emoluments clause of the US Constitution.
Under pressure from congressional Republicans who are struggling to figure out how they can defend a president who so blatantly engages in wrongdoing, Trump grudgingly decided over the weekend to scrap his plan to host the G-7 summit at his Trump National Doral Miami resort—but he’s not done so quietly. The president is now growling about “you people with this phony emoluments clause.”
Correction: The emoluments clause is not phony.
For all the talk about foreign intrigues involving Ukrainians and Russians, Trump’s self-dealing is the greatest threat to his presidency. As House Judiciary Committee member Steve Cohen says, “The president is skating on thin ice these days, and the ice is melting.”
Cohen, who has been the most ardent advocate for impeaching the president for violations of the emoluments clause, tore into Trump for suggesting that the section of the Constitution that guards against corruption is fake. “As the chairman of the subcommittee on the constitution, it struck me as obscene,” declared Cohen after the president’s latest outburst, continuing:
We take an oath to uphold the Constitution. We revere much of the work, most of the work, of James Madison and our founding fathers who drew the Constitution. To say that was a slap at our founding fathers—disrespect for the Constitution to which he takes an oath and the most sacred papers, most sacred document in this country. He says it’s “phony.” Well, the impeachment clause isn’t phony. The separation of powers aren’t phony. There’s a lot of things that he may think are phony that are American, and he was disrespectful of our nation’s heritage and our nation’s founders.
Before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the impeachment inquiry—after the revelation by a whistle-blower of details regarding Trump’s pressuring of the Ukrainian president to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his family—Cohen was already calling for quick action to impeach Trump for emolument clause violations. The representative, who has been outlining arguments for impeachment since the summer of 2017, acknowledges that there are many reasons to hold the president to account. But he has placed a particular emphasis on Trump’s violations of Article 1, Section 9, of the US Constitution, the Foreign Emoluments Clause, which states that
No Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], 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.
and Article II, Section 1, the Domestic Emoluments Clause, which states that
The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.
“Trump is comfortable being openly corrupt,” explains Cohen, who argues that the House should be comfortable holding the president to account for that corruption.
Cohen is not alone in this view. On August 28, after Trump proposed using the Doral for the G7 Summit, the leadership of the Judiciary Committee, chair Jerry Nadler, joined Cohen in complaining that “the President’s personal financial interests are clearly shaping decisions about official U.S. government activities, and this is precisely the type of risk that the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses were intended to prevent.”
The Doral proposal highlighted the emoluments issue. But it runs deeper than one scheme. There is plenty of evidence of wrongdoing, beginning with the frequent stays by administration officials—including Vice President Pence during his recent Ireland trip—at out-of-the-way Trump properties. And there are the concerns raised about the ways in which the president’s business interests have appeared to influence his governing decisions with regard to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Cohen is ready to impeach Trump for violations of the emoluments clause, and rightly so. As he says, “I took an oath to uphold the Constitution. That includes the Emoluments Clause. Trump may not like it, but that doesn’t make it ‘phony.’ Protecting our government from corruption and foreign influence is crucial and violating the Emoluments Clause is an impeachable offense.”