On Monday, Donald Trump told the world that the next G-7 summit will be held at his money-losing Doral resort in Florida. On Tuesday we learned that Attorney General Bill Barr is spending $30,000 on his annual Christmas bash at the Trump Hotel in Washington, DC. On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that Trump is pressuring officials to steer billions in construction funding for his useless border wall to a GOP-connected firm that had been passed over.
All of these outrages have one thing in common: the thoroughgoing corruption that distinguishes the Trump administration, which is as central to it as its radically conservative white-nationalist ideology. But the corruption seems to be getting more brazen, raising the question of whether Congress’s failure to take seriously its impeachment responsibilities is emboldening Trump and his allies.
Let’s deal with Barr’s little party first. It’s probably legal; he’s spending his own money. But it’s still obscene, reminiscent of how obsequious mobsters often give a little tribute to the boss at holiday time. Barr knows that it makes his independence from Trump look compromised, but he doesn’t care about the appearance of independence anymore. It should also be noted that $30,000 is a lot of money to spend on an annual party. Here’s hoping Trump’s white working-class supporters—including the farmers suffering from his tariffs, the workers recently laid off by US Steel, and the Kentucky coal miners who’ve been blocking a coal train because they haven’t been paid—finally pay attention. Trump didn’t “drain the swamp”; Barr is just another swamp creature, like his boss.
Then there’s the claim that the next G-7 summit will take place at Trump’s declining Doral property. Never mind the fact that his company settled a lawsuit claiming the place was infested by bedbugs in 2017 (I know settlements aren’t an admission of guilt, but that seems like the kind of claim a fancy resort would want to fight). The move appears to be unconstitutional, a violation of the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause forbidding presidents from accepting gifts or money from foreign governments. It’s obvious why: to prevent foreign leaders from unduly influencing them. It doesn’t matter if the influence is bad or good (it might be nice if Trump listened to the sane ones). It doesn’t matter if, as Trump claims, he wouldn’t make money on the deal (and there’s no reason to believe that).
“Trump keeps proving that he is deliberately violating the Constitution’s main safeguard against financial corruption and compromise of presidential decisions by foreign power,” Harvard constitutional law professor Lawrence Tribe tweeted Tuesday. An advocate of impeachment, Tribe added, “He’s making our case for us.”
Then we come to Wednesday’s blockbuster Washington Post report that Trump is breaking every imaginable rule to get more of his imaginary wall completed by the November 2020 election. In the most obvious grift, he’s pushing the Army Corps to reverse a prior decision and award a contract potentially worth billions to GOP donor Tommy Fisher, a move that “has alarmed military commanders and DHS officials,” the Post reported. Fisher has already been working with a private group, We Build The Wall, to erect a section of prototype; among the group’s advisers is an all-star cast of grifters and white nationalists including former White House strategist Stephen Bannon, Blackwater USA’s Erik Prince, immigrant-bashing former representative Tom Tancredo and former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach.
Different, but related: The Post also reveals that Trump is instructing aides to “aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules” in order to fast-track wall construction—and is telling them he’ll pardon anyone who gets in trouble for breaking the law. Administration officials say Trump was just “joking,” but we’ve read this news before: In April, Trump reportedly promised to pardon acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan if he got arrested for blocking migrants at the border. Trump said he was joking that time as well—but who believed him, now or then?
If those reports are true, Trump is violating another constitutional requirement: that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Just another potentially impeachable offense.
We know that House leaders are trying to have it both ways, calling the Judiciary Committee’s many investigations into Trump’s wrongdoing part of “formal impeachment proceedings,” in chair Representative Jerry Nadler’s words. But we still have no idea what those words mean. More than half the Democratic caucus now say they support an “impeachment inquiry,” if not necessarily articles of impeachment; it’s not clear whether those commitments have any impact either. What is clear is that, in the absence of any restraint by the Republican Party, and a surfeit of political caution by Democrats, Trump’s grift goes on. He mocks the rule of law, and we may pay for our failure to restrain him well past January 2021, however next year’s election goes.