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Trump Organization answers on foreign payments irk key Democrat

Billy House, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the House Oversight Committee said Friday that he's dissatisfied with responses from a lawyer for the Trump Organization regarding payments that properties owned by President Donald Trump have received from foreign governments.

"Today's production by the Trump Organization in response to the committee's previous bipartisan request is largely a rehash of arguments and information previously provided," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat.

At issue are questions about whether the Trump Organization's dealings with foreign governments violate anti-corruption provisions in the U.S. Constitution.

The lawyer, Stefan Passantino, wrote to the committee earlier in the day that he had been retained by the Trump Organization in matters before Congress and offered a response to a request for information from Cummings dated Dec. 19.

Until last summer, Passantino was a White House deputy counsel in charge of ethics and conflicts of interest.

In his letter, he writes that the Trump Organization "respectfully but strongly disagrees with the premise of any inference that payments received by The Trump Organization constitute emoluments as that term is used in the United States Constitution."

He added that "so far as we can ascertain, President Trump is the only United States president ever confronted with such a broad definition of 'emoluments.'"

The so-called emoluments clause in Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, states: "No Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of Congress, accept any present, Emolument, Office, or Title of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."

Trump has retained ownership in his various concerns, some of which do business with state-controlled companies and diplomats from other countries. For instance, the Trump International Hotel in Washington gets business from foreign governments and their representatives. Lobbyists representing Saudi Arabia have spent at least $270,000 at the hotel, which has which has become a magnet for politicians, Trump administration officials, and those seeking to curry favor with them.

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The Trump Organization also licenses the Trump name for property projects in countries including Uruguay, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

The president's lawyers have denied any impropriety and shortly after taking office he pledged to donate to the U.S. Treasury "all profits" from foreign government patronage of his hotels.

Cummings, who became the committee's chairman after Democrats took control of the House this month, said: "We will follow up as appropriate with the Trump Organization to seek the information that we need."

Separately, the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit accusing Trump of violating the emoluments clause by profiting from his presidency.

(Shahien Nasiripour contributed to this report.)

(c)2019 Bloomberg News

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