Learning out Loud in Milwaukee, WI

A letter to Senator Cory Gardner regarding conflicts of interest in the incoming White House

Senator Gardner,
My name is Greg Boone, a resident of Northwest Denver and a proud public servant in our federal government since 2014. I’m writing you today because your voicemail has been full for several days and I got a busy signal when calling your local office here in Denver. It should go without saying but, for the record, I make these remarks freely as a concerned citizen, independent of the agency I serve. I’ve been told that email is less effective than phone calling, and I sincerely hope that is not true for your office.

I’m writing today about conflicts of interest, specifically as they relate to President Donald Trump. The president is not bound to the same ethics laws I am as a public servant, but he is bound, like all of us and every president before him, by the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. As you know, the clause expressly prohibits anybody holding office in the United States from accepting “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

This clause was written into the constitution to protect our republic from the influence of foreign governments. It’s also the bedrock of a strong set of anti-corruption laws this country has built itself on since its founding. Divestiture from businesses owned or operated by the president is a key component of avoiding a violation of this clause precisely because any representative of a foreign government who does business with those companies would constitute an “emolument,” or profit from a foreign government.

With President Trump, this means any foreign officials visiting Washington who stay at Trump’s hotel in the Old Post Office Building, will be giving an emolument to the President of the United States. Because he has properties around the world, even when foreign leaders are not traveling in the United States, he’ll be profiting from their stay. When President Trump goes the the G8, the UN, or any convention of world leaders, foreign governments have an opportunity to curry favor with him by staying in his hotels.

In his press conference this week he offered a possible solution to the DC hotel’s problem: All profits from the Trump Hotel in DC will be donated to the U.S. Treasury. This is hardly a solution and perhaps makes the problem even worse. Now, when a foreign leader is coming to Washington, they have to think about their choice of where to stay and whether their decision not to stay in a Trump Hotel will be seen as a choice to not donate to the U.S. Treasury.

Never before in history have all foreign diplomats had to think about the politics of how their hotel choice will affect their standing with the U.S. Government. The only way to avoid it would be for the president to relinquish complete and total, and divest himself from his companies. Every other president in history has been held to this standard, and it’s up to the Congress to hold President Trump to the same.

Some in the Administration, Congress, and in the press seem to be OK with these conflicts of interest. Even if you think they’re OK, you should be demanding his divesture because of the precedent it will set going forward. The next president could own a business that supports a known terrorist organization and use the same arguments President Trump is using to retain ownership in them. Will it hurt his stake in a business he’s owned and built for decades, maybe, but that hardly seems too price to pay for the stability of our republic.

If Congress doesn’t demand his divestiture now, they need to be watching the money flowing from foreign governments into the Trump Organization and making absolutely certain that no emoluments have been accepted without Congressional consent. If Congress doesn’t do this, you can be sure that the voters will.

Thank you for your service to the State of Colorado, and to the United States of America.

Greg Boone
Denver, CO