House Democrats find ‘stunning web’ of foreign payments to Trump firms during his presidency

A years-long investigation by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee has uncovered what they describe as a “stunning” web of at least $7 million in payments from foreign governments directly into the coffers of then-president Donald Trump.

The committee’s findings, laid out in a newly released staff report, are derived from documents obtained by the panel before Republicans took control of the House last year and subsequently scuttled the probe into whether Mr Trump unlawfully accepted payments from foreign governments in violation of the US Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

The report states that Democrats on the committee uncovered “millions of dollars in payments made by foreign governments and their agents directly to Trump-owned businesses” during his term, including the Washington DC hotel which Mr Trump operated just blocks from the White House.

Payments also flowed from foreign governments to Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, his Trump World Tower at 845 United Nations Plaza in New York, and Mr Trump’s eponymous Manhattan skyscraper, Trump Tower.

The payments, the report says, totalled $7.8 million over just two of his four years in office, and came at the same time the foreign governments — including China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others — were “promoting specific foreign policy goals with the Trump Administration and even, at times, with President Trump himself, and as they were requesting specific actions from the United States to advance their own national policy objectives”.

Specifically, the report lays out payments directly into the then-president’s coffers from the following foreign governments, among others”

  • $5.6m from China to Trump Tower, Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, and Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas

  • $615,422 from Saudi Arabia to Trump World Tower and Trump International Hotel in DC

  • $465,744 from Qatar to Trump World Tower

  • $303,372 from Kuwait to Trump World Tower and Trump International Hotel in DC

  • $282,764 from India to Trump World Tower and Trump International Hotel in DC

  • $248,962 from Malaysia to Trump International Hotel in DC

  • $154,750 from Afghanistan to Trump International Hotel in DC

In a statement, House Oversight Committee ranking member Jamie Raskin said the records in question, which Democrats obtained from Mr Trump’s former accounting firm Mazars USA, showed what was most likely “ just a small fraction of the payments former President Trump received from foreign governments while in office, in violation of the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause”.

He also noted that the panel had found that the then-president took money from 19 foreign governments based on the two years of records obtained by the panel before Republicans took control of the lower chamber.

“After promising ‘the greatest infomercial in political history,’ former President Donald Trump repeatedly and willfully violated the US Constitution by failing to divest from his business empire and allowing his businesses to accept millions of dollars in payments from some of the most corrupt nations on earth,” Mr Raskin said.

“The governments making these payments sought specific foreign policy outcomes from President Trump and his Administration. Each dollar former President Trump accepted violated the Constitution’s strict prohibition on payments from foreign governments, which the Founders enacted to prevent presidents from selling out US foreign policy to foreign leaders,” he added.

The Maryland Democrat also slammed his Republican counterparts on the panel, led by Chairman James Comer of Kentucky, who he said had “buried any further evidence of the Trump family’s staggering corruption” by ending efforts to force Mazars to comply with a subpoena issued when Democrats controlled the chamber during Mr Trump’s term.

“Despite these efforts, today’s report makes clear that former President Trump put lining his pockets with cash from foreign governments seeking policy favors over the interests of the American people. By concealing the evidence of Trump’s grift, House Republicans shamefully condone former President Trump’s past conduct and keep the door open for future presidents to exploit higher office,” he said.

The House Democrats’ report appears to be the final act in a long-running fight over Mr Trump’s sprawling business interests which began just days before he was set to take office in 2017, when the then-president-elect refused to divest from the eponymous real estate and branding empire which he’d built over decades.

Instead of putting his assets in a blind trust, Mr Trump transferred control to his adult sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr, who claimed that the Trump Organization would not enter into any “new” foreign business deals during their father’s time in the White House.

When Democrats retook the House halfway through his term, they launched an investigation into whether Mr Trump’s retention of ownership in his businesses — particularly the Washington, DC hotel — violated the provision of the US Constitution banning presidents or their families from taking anything of value from other governments, including foreign and state governments.

Mr Raskin, the panel’s current ranking member, told reporters on Thursday that the committee’s work was the culmination of a process that began under the late Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings, who served as the oversight committee’s top Democrat when Mr Trump was elected in 2016.

“When Donald Trump was elected, Cummings sensed immediately that there's going to be a problem with a president bringing more than 500 businesses into office with them and refusing to divest himself of any of the businesses, or even putting them into a blind trust,” he said.

“That was shocking and ethically dicey enough, but Cummings also took note of the fact that Trump said he would not agree to not engage in business with foreign governments ... that presented an immediate prospective offence to the Constitution in Article One, Section nine, clause eight, the foreign government Emoluments Clause,” he added.

The probe started under Cummings continued throughout Mr Trump’s final two years in office, and when the panel attempted to subpoena records from Mr Trump’s accountants, he sued to block the subpoena. The resulting lawsuit eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Trump v Mazars that the then-president’s private business records could be subpoenaed by the House panel.

Mr Raskin, the current ranking Democrat on the committee, said the violations of the foreign emoluments clause committed by Mr Trump were unique in the nearly 250-year history of the American presidency, citing efforts by his predecessors to scrupulously comply with the constitutional provision at issue.

“In the United States, we don't have kings and princes and nobles here. And also, no one who's holding an office of profit or trust under the United States shall collect from any prince, or king, or foreign government ... an emolument, which means a payment, an office or title of any kind, whatever. It is a categorical prohibition against it,” he said.

“No president has ever come close to doing what Donald Trump did, in receiving money from foreign princes, kings, and governments”.