The U.S. Constitution forbids emoluments clause in Article 1, section 9. These are personal profits or gains a public official may receive, from foreign countries and officials, due to their office.
Before Ronald Reagan entered the Oval Office, and due to his governorship of California, he was eligible to collect a pension from the state. Upon becoming president of the United States, he deferred to the Office of Legal Counsel as to whether he could still collect. When Jimmy Carter became president, he put his family’s peanut farm and warehouse outside of his own control into an independent trust, as not to risk a conflict of interest. During his presidency, business profits and losses could not affect anyone in the Carter family. This was the kind of responsibility we have been able to trust the president of the United States with.
Donald Trump ran for president in 1999 under the Reform Party, and dropped out of the race early on. Then, of course, he ran in 2016, lost the popular vote, and won the electoral vote. The day after taking the oath of office in January of 2017, a private nonprofit advocacy group, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, filed a lawsuit against President Trump over emoluments. The president has refused to honor the emoluments clause in the Constitution.
We’ve known this for a while. The 2016 election and my awareness of the word “emolument” directly correlate. The Constitution forbids the president from accepting payments from any foreign or domestic government personnel. Nevertheless, 12 foreign governments so far, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and China, have paid an entity owned by Trump, according to CREW. President Trump transferred management of the Trump Organization to his adult sons, which is great, but as with most things, not nearly enough. Trump remains a direct beneficiary of the Trump Organization, Trump hotels, Trump resorts, and more. He remains the only beneficiary of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust. He advertises his own brand while on government business, which, let’s face it, is not very classy.
The latest emoluments roller coaster has to do with Vice President Mike Pence and the United States Air Force. Earlier this month, Pence stayed at a Trump golf resort in Doonbeg, County Clare, Ireland, and his official meetings were 180 miles away in Dublin. Explanations were on the grounds of family ties to the area. USAF has been a frequent visitor at the Turnberry resort in Scotland, where military stops have skyrocketed since the Trump inauguration. The Turnberry resort depends on the nearby, low-traffic Glasgow Prestwick Airport, with which the Trump Organization entered an official partnership in 2014 for all of Trump’s personal aviation needs, including a private jumbo jet and helicopter, and a particular service for Trump’s Turnberry resort. That same year, he purchased the Turnberry resort, but has not turned a profit since. USAF has been making a lot more stops there than prior to the Trump administration, which may make sense due to convenient plane parking and compliant fuel pricing. But a deal between the Trump Organization and Scotland’s Glasgow Prestwick Airport seems too sweetheart.
Ultimately, housing USAF personnel on layover in the Trump Turnberry resort is only responsible action as long as nowhere else in the area can deliver overnight housing for less than $189 per night, which DOD told the House Oversight Committee is Turnberry’s rates, as part of the ongoing investigation. USAF has incurred over $184,000 on government travel cards, including around $60,000 in unspecified charges. As a reminder, doing that with $10 would get your student group dropped from the student services fees' good graces.
USAF and all servicemen serve with the mantra of duty, honor, country. If any do not, it is probably the result of a cascading lax attitude throughout ranks, that would permit something like blatant personal profit with American military funds. No one should be afraid of holding military spending accountable, including the military itself — maybe there were USAF officers who wanted to, but couldn’t overcome the inertia of irresponsible spending. And no one should be afraid of accountability within the office of the president, either. But as USAF is well equipped to counter, these are turbulent times.