An obscure clause in the Constitution could pose problems for President-elect Donald Trump.
The "Emoluments Clause," which effectively bars federal officials from doing business with or taking gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval, has come to the forefront due to Trump's sprawling business interests around the globe. A former chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush told ThinkProgress that Trump has already shown some behaviors that could test the rule.
Here's the clause in question from Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
The former Bush official, Richard Painter, focused in particular on a Washington Post report about foreign diplomats flocking to Trump's new Washington hotel. One unnamed Asian diplomat quoted in the story asked, "Why wouldn't I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, 'I love your new hotel!'"
Painter told ThinkProgress that this could constitute a gift. Trump could avoid such conflicts in office by selling the hotel or handing it over to his children by the time he is inaugurated, he told the outlet.
Trump's transition team has touted its efforts to cut the influence of lobbyists and ban gifts.
However, Trump's planned transfer of his businesses to his three eldest children raises other conflicts. They serve on his transition team, and his daughter Ivanka sat in on his recent meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
In a Tuesday interview with The New York Times, Trump suggested the president could not have a conflict of interest because the law exempts the office from such concerns. That claim largely checks out, but there are still some questions about Trump and the spirit of the Emoluments Clause.