U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CN), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) called on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General John Roth to conduct an investigation into whether President Trump has violated the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution by using DHS funds for security when he and his family’s travel also potentially enriches his private business holdings. As the senators noted, President Trump has refused to establish a blind trust for his vast business assets, raising significant potential for conflicts of interest and risking the perception that he is using the presidency for his family’s private gain.
For example, when the President visits his private club, Mar-a-Lago, which is still operating as a business, he brings with him staff, Secret Service, and military aides. If DHS is using its resources to pay Mar-a-Lago for rooms or other expenses, such an arrangement allows the president to personally profit off of every vacation he takes to his properties. A similar problem arises when Secret Service accompanies the Trump children on Trump Organization business trips, and potentially when it provides security for Trump Tower in New York City. The senators highlighted that any payment for goods or services from the federal government to the Trump Organization amounts to a violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause.
Distinct from the Foreign Emoluments Clause, the Domestic Emoluments Clause is contained in Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution, which reads “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased 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.”
Emolument has been interpreted to mean any profit from taxpayer resources.
The Mar-a-Lago controversy is just one of the many examples of ways that the president may be directing federal resources to benefit his and his families interests, the senators stated.
The senators wrote, “as you know, President Trump has not maintained this tradition of transparency and accountability. Instead, he placed his vast business holdings in a fully revocable trust that is overseen by Donald Trump, Jr. and one of President Trump’s longtime business associates, Allen Weisselberg. President Trump’s two adult sons manage the Trump Organization businesses, but the President is the trust’s named beneficiary and maintains the control to revoke the trust or change the management at any time.”
“This arrangement raises significant potential for conflicts of interest and risks the perception that President Trump is exploiting his public office for his family’s private gain,” the senators continued.
The president’s vacations to “Mar-a-Lago highlight the significant potential conflicts of interest that exist due to the President’s refusal to divest his assets and place them in a blind trust. The Secret Service expenses potentially incurred to stay at Mar-a-Lago are just one example of the numerous likely conflicts that will arise that involve using Department of Homeland Security (DHS) resources in a way that privately benefits the President and his family. We believe your office must conduct a thorough investigation into these issues and continuously monitor the potential for conflicts and violations of the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the Constitution during President Trump’s term,” the senators added.
Here’s the full text of the letter: