Democrats propose ban on officials receiving payments from foreign governments after Trump probe

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats introduced legislation Tuesday that would prohibit U.S. officials from accepting money, payments or gifts from foreign governments without congressional consent, their response to a yearslong probe into former President Donald Trump’s overseas business dealings.

The proposal led by Rep. Jamie Raskin and Sen. Richard Blumenthal would enforce the Constitution’s ban on emoluments, which prohibits the president from accepting foreign gifts and money without Congress’ permission. Democrats say Trump brazenly ignored the clause as president as foreign government officials flocked to his hotels and properties.

“Although we have not needed to develop a full-blown legislative machinery to enforce the Emoluments Clause for more than two centuries, Congress must now enact a law to prevent Presidents from ever again exploiting the presidency for self-enrichment by selling out our government to foreign states,” Raskin said in a statement Tuesday.

The legislation is unlikely to advance in Congress, particularly in the House, which Republicans control. But Democrats say the reform is necessary after a lengthy investigation by their House Oversight Committee staff found that Trump’s businesses received nearly $8 million from 20 foreign governments during his presidency.

It outlined how foreign governments and their entities poured millions into various Trump properties, including the Trump International Hotels in Washington and Las Vegas as well as two Trump properties in New York. The payees ranged from China to Saudi Arabia to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The report states that the Chinese government made the largest total payment to Trump’s private business interests through their various financial institutions, some of which were under investigation by the Justice Department while Trump was in office. Saudi Arabia is also cited as spending hundreds of thousands of dollars at Trump’s properties around the time the former president signed an arms deal with the Saudi government worth more than $100 billion.

The 156-page report provided what Democrats purport is concrete evidence of improper activity by Trump. Republicans have unsuccessfully tried to accuse President Joe Biden of such activity as part of their impeachment inquiry.

GOP lawmakers have asserted that the president’s family has traded on the Biden name, by trying to link a handful of phone calls or dinner meetings between Biden, when he was vice president or out of office, and his son Hunter Biden and his business associates.

However, Republicans have not been able to produce evidence that shows Joe Biden was directly involved or benefited from his family’s businesses while in public office.

Government ethics lawyers condemned Trump’s decision to hold onto his vast business empire after taking office, saying the decision provided ample opportunity for people who want to influence U.S. policy to curry favor with the president.

In response, Trump and his legal team asserted that critics are misinterpreting the emoluments clauses, saying that the framers of the Constitution did not intend for them to cover fair-value transactions between a business and its customers, such as offering a hotel room for the night for payment.

The legislation would specifically ban federal officeholders — the president, vice president, members of the Cabinet, members of Congress and other senior officials — from accepting future payments while in office and for two years after leaving office without first obtaining Congress’ approval. It would also expand to include money and gifts directly or indirectly from members of royal families and state-controlled enterprises.

To maintain oversight of any conflicts, the bill would require federal officials going forward to include any foreign payments they have received on their annual ethics disclosure forms.

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