A former ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush suggested in an interview Friday that the Electoral College should consider not voting for President-elect Trump if he doesn’t move to address certain conflicts of interest related to his business empire.
CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Richard Painter, Bush’s chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007, about the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C, whose building, the Old Post Office Pavilion, is leased from the federal government. That lease explicitly states elected officials may play no role in or benefit from the arrangement.
Painter argued that the conflicts of interest presented by the hotel didn’t end with the General Services Administration, which controls the lease and whose leadership Trump may appoint as president.
“Foreign diplomats come stay in that hotel, and foreign governments want to throw parties in that hotel,” Painter said. “There’s a provision in the Constitution that says that persons holding positions of trust with the United States government cannot take payments from foreign governments. It’s called the Emoluments Clause, that’s a fancy word for ‘No Pay-Offs From Foreign Governments’ Clause.”
“The founders didn’t want it and he can’t accept money from foreign governments and companies controlled by foreign governments,” he continued. “It’s going to be very difficult if he’s running that hotel, or he owns that hotel. We’re going to have to keep all foreign government money out of there and the same for the rest of his business empire.”
On Wednesday, Trump wrote on Twitter that he would be holding a press Dec. 15 conference to “discuss” leaving his business empire as president, and that “legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations.” His aides subsequently suggested he would be sticking to stated plans to transfer operations to his adult children.
Painter on Friday said that, should Trump fail to address the legal hurdles presented by the Emoluments Clause, the Electoral College should take that into consideration when meeting to vote.
Tapper then pressed him to clarify whether electors should refuse to vote for Trump.
“Only the Constitutional issues I think rise to that level. And that is the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, the money that’s coming in from foreign governments. That’s prohibited,” he said, comparing violation of the clause to electing a non-citizen president. “You can’t have someone who’s receiving payments from foreign governments become president of the United States. And so that part of it does have to be addressed very quickly. It needs to be addressed before the Electoral College meets.”
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