MARK KARLIN, EDITOR AT BUZZFLASH
On March 9, the Washington Post reported that the Trump Organization had just been granted dozens of trademarks by China, and questioned whether this was another of the many apparent conflicts of interest between Trump the president and Trump the business tycoon:
China has granted preliminary approval for at least 38 Trump trademarks for businesses ranging from hotels and spas to animal training and weather forecasting, reopening a debate about the potential for conflicts of interest under his presidency…
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called it an "astonishing development." After Trump sought valuable trademarks in China for more than a decade without success before his election, "the floodgates now appear to be open," he said in a statement.
Cardin suggested that Beijing officials "have come to appreciate the potential return on investments for China in having a positive, personal business relationship" with Trump as president. He called on the administration to "brief Congress, immediately, on these matters and on the potential constitutional dangers that they present."
China was a regular target of Trump's campaign rhetoric, in which he focused on reforming trade policy and accused China of currency manipulation. However, now that he is president, the trademarks appear to be an example of how the Trump business empire is benefitting from a financial relationship with China.
A Tuesday, March 14, CNN article reported, "President Donald Trump is planning to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a summit next month at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida." This will provide a windfall of publicity to a private Trump club, as happened when Trump hosted the Japanese prime minister there last month. Both visits are worth millions of dollars in Trump brand enhancement -- and specifically, promotion of Mar-a-Lago.
Trump has officially indicated that he is no longer running his business, and has appointed his children to oversee it. However, as its owner, he still profits from it. Thus, it becomes nearly impossible to separate his role as an elected head of government from his shilling for the Trump Organization.
Trump's business relationship with China is no secret: Before he was elected, we reported on how both Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka have their consumer clothes lines manufactured primarily in China.
Dave Johnson of OurFuture.org wrote this week that the recent trademarking announcement and other Trump corporation business relationships with China may be violating the Constitution:
The "emoluments clause" of the Constitution, "no Person holding any Office .. shall … accept of any present, Emolument .. of any kind whatever, from a … foreign State."
This clause, in Article I of the Constitution, stems from concern in the 1700s that foreign states might use gifts to curry favor with U.S. officials. The wording makes clear that a gift doesn't need to be a bribe to violate the Constitution; accepting any kind of gift without permission is a violation.
China is a foreign state. It just is. An emolument is a "profit, salary, or fees from office or employment." With this grant of trademarks Trump is receiving a profit. He just is. And Bob's your uncle.
Whether or not Trump is actually demanding "protection money" from China, this all actually is a foreign government enriching our president. These trademarks are worth millions if not billions of dollars to Trump's businesses.
Many pundits and constitutional attorneys have been debating whether or not Trump is in technical legal violation of the emoluments clause, since he is not accepting actual gifts and has suspended his role as CEO of Trump enterprises. Johnson argues, however, that since Trump is a financial beneficiary of his business empire, such actions as the granting of dozens of trademarks violates the spirit of the emoluments clause -- and that a case can be made that Trump is acting in contempt of the Constitution.
In an article in Quartz, Zheping Huang asks pertinent questions about the trademarks:
Did it become easier for Trump to register trademarks in China after he declared his candidacy, and even more so once he became president? Is the Chinese government trying to curry favor with Trump through trademark deals (though it has denied that)? .... Trump now has 77 trademarks in effect in China. He is likely to register more, and is also due to renew most of the old ones during his term.
When considering Trump's blustery showmanship and the building of the Trump brand around him as a personality, it is likely impossible to separate Trump the president from Trump the businessman. Certainly, nations such as China understand that these two sides of Trump are inextricably entangled, no matter what is written in the Constitution.