Until recently, you probably did not know (or care) what an “emolument” is. Many people, including many lawyers, had never heard that archaic term before. Those were the good old days. Now, thanks to President Donald J. Trump, the word “emolument” is all the rage. Need proof? Last week, it topped the charts on Merriam-Webster.com.
As far as words go, that is a big deal.
This newfound popular interest reflects an emerging consensus that Trump is violating the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause. That clause bars any “Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States]” from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” (absent congressional consent). As Trump’s lawyers have acknowledged (and rightly so), the president holds an “Office of Profit or Trust” and is subject to this restriction.
The nature of Trump’s violation is straightforward: Because of his ownership stake in the Trump Organization, Trump’s private financial interests are intertwined with a business empire subject to many possible burdens and benefits abroad. None of Trump’s “solutions” fixes this problem. As a result, in his dealings with foreign powers, Trump may be guided not only by the interests of the United States, but also by those of the business that bears his name—unless he totally stops caring about his money (we are not holding our breath). It is the purpose of the foreign emoluments clause to eliminate precisely this kind of blurred loyalty.