Donald Trump entered office with a globe-spanning business empire, a well-earned (and self-promoted) reputation for ruthless greed, and no substantive plan for insulating himself against conflicts of interest. There are a lot of problems with this arrangement. One is that the U.S. Constitution bars presidents from accepting gifts (or “emoluments”) from foreign governments.
Our current president owns a hotel within walking distance of the White House. Many foreign diplomats have made that hotel their default choice when visiting D.C. — and some have said, explicitly, that they’ve done this in hopes of currying favor with its owner.
This has led to a raft of lawsuits against the president. And those have led Justice Department lawyers to put aside their duties to the public, and spend time and money trying to prove that Trump’s private businesses are not undermining the White House’s ability to perform its duties to the public. As USA Today reports:
Taxpayers are footing the legal bill for at least 10 Justice Department lawyers and paralegals to work on lawsuits related to President Trump’s private businesses.
… The government legal team is defending President Trump in four lawsuits stemming from his unusual decision not to divest himself from hundreds of his companies that are entangled with customers that include foreign governments and officials.
In the cases, Justice Department attorneys are not defending policy actions Trump took as president. Instead, the taxpayer-funded lawyers are making the case that it is not unconstitutional for the president’s private companies to earn profits from foreign governments and officials while he’s in office.
To be fair, Trump is only using government lawyers in cases where plaintiffs filed their lawsuits against “President Donald Trump,” as opposed to merely “Donald Trump.” The Justice Department interprets the first category of cases as being against “the office of the presidency,” rather than the president himself.
So, this isn’t really about defending Donald Trump’s business interests; it’s about defending the right of all American presidents to profit from name-branded hotels that cater to foreign agents while in office. Who wouldn’t want their tax dollars funding that cause?