Grassley Asks Plaintiffs in Emoluments Suits to Explain Their Narrow, Partisan Focus
Aug 11, 2017
Invites bipartisan cooperation on oversight; suits against the president implicate former Secretary of State
WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley wrote to plaintiffs in three separate lawsuits that allege President Trump violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, asking about foreign government money paid directly to former President Bill Clinton and declared as joint marital income with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“The Clause must be enforced impartially, without regard for power, privilege, or party. Selective efforts to enforce the Clause smack of partisan political bias. A fair examination of Secretary Clinton’s financial benefits from foreign government entities and instrumentalities, by your reasoning, plainly shows that those benefits implicate the Clause. Yet your complaint[s] raised none of these concerns…,” Grassley wrote.
The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has long held in advisory opinions that spouses filing joint tax returns derive financial benefit from their spouses’ assets. Former President Clinton’s receipt of six-figure payments from foreign governments or instrumentalities, such as $175,000 from a city government in Canada, $500,000 from the Abu Dhabi Global Environment Data Initiative, $500,000 from a Russian government-aligned investment bank or a $200,000 speech allegedly supported by the Chinese government, demonstrate a direct transfer of foreign government money to Secretary Clinton, a federal officeholder, without the consent of Congress. Further, by the reasoning laid out in articles written by Norm Eisen, Richard Painter and Laurence Tribe, attorneys leading one of the lawsuits against Trump, the purpose of the Clause favors covering immediate family of federal officeholders.
In addition to these payments directly to the Clintons, which were disclosed as personal income, foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation during the tenure of then-Secretary Clinton may have inured to her personal financial benefit. The plaintiffs’ expansive interpretation of the Emoluments Clause would also apply to these indirect payments received by the Clinton Foundation, yet go unaddressed in any of their complaints.
In his letters, Grassley asks why the plaintiffs are seeking remedies only against the president and what steps each may take to seek remedies for the apparent violations of Secretary Clinton. He also invites the Members of Congress involved in the litigation to join him in bipartisan oversight of the Justice Department’s and State Department’s enforcement of the Clause to determine whether legislation may be necessary to force agencies to seek remedies when the Clause is violated.
“Any violations of the Clause should be pursued and remedied in an evenhanded and objective manner, regardless of who may have committed them,” Grassley wrote in his letter.
The Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution prohibits federal officeholders from accepting any gifts, titles, benefits, income or emoluments from foreign governments or foreign instrumentalities without the consent of Congress in order to prevent undue foreign influence on the U.S. government.
Grassley wrote letters to Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.), who filed suit alongside dozens of fellow Democratic members of the House and Senate, to CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington), the group led by Eisen and Painter as well as the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia.
- Full text of Grassley’s letter to CREW can be found here.
- Full text of Grassley’s letter to Senator Blumenthal and Representative Conyers can be found here.
- Full text of Grassley’s letter to Attorneys General Brian Frosh of Maryland and Karl Racine of the District of Columbia can be found here.
BACKGROUND: Grassley’s previous letters relating to the Emoluments Clause can be found here.