House Democrats took a step toward asserting Congress’ right to review the president’s receipt of emoluments on Tuesday, after Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) ordered staff on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to caution foreign officials that they may be “facilitating” President Donald Trump’s potential violation of the Constitution.
The move comes amid a string of court rulings that suggest that questions regarding the Emoluments Clause — which forbids presidents from enjoying personal benefits from foreign governments absent Congressional approval — are for the legislative branch to handle.
A committee aide described the move to TPM as an exercise in congressional prerogative, adding that the move is meant to resolve a “lack of clarity.”
The new policy came in a memorandum to committee staff, ordering them to “inform” foreign officials that “by providing any form of payment to a Trump-owned property their government is facilitating the President’s apparent violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause.”
The directive goes on to request that staffers “urge” foreign officials to tell their home governments that Engel’s committee asks that they “cease and desist payments to the Trump Organization” until Congress “approves the emolument, as provided in the Constitution.”
“Congress hasn’t approved of anything yet,” the aide said. “So absent that proactive approval, one should err on the side of caution.”
Various governments have and continue to rent out prime Trump real estate. Saudi Arabia houses part of its United Nations delegation on the 45th floor of Trump World Tower in Midtown Manhattan, for example, paying millions to the President’s company in common charges for the building.
At the same time, Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C., plays host to foreign officials and has hosted events organized by embassies in the capital.
The Committee aide added to TPM that while the committee understands that foreign governments want access to the Trump Administration, they should be wary of getting “into a domestic political morass.”
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals smacked down an emoluments lawsuit from the Maryland and D.C. attorneys general in July on standing grounds, declining to rule on the substance of the claim.
The last significant emoluments-related lawsuit winding its way through the courts is one brought by Democratic members of Congress. The Democrats recently suffered a setback in that suit, after an appeals court appeared to suggest that a lower court judge made a mistake in denying the President the opportunity for an early appeal.