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Congress targets President Trump for using the Oval Office to line his pockets

2019-09-06

President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

WASHINGTON — Congress is ramping up its investigation of President Trump’s use of his office to benefit his businesses — and adding it to the list of possible impeachable offenses.

Spurred in part by Vice President Mike Pence's recent three-hour detour to stay at a Trump golf resort in Ireland, the House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight Committee are demanding information about that and other recent official Trump activities that ring the cash registers at Trump businesses.

“The Committee does not believe that U.S. taxpayer funds should be used to personally enrich President Trump, his family, and his companies,” Oversight Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) wrote in one of five letters released Friday.

Trump has been under fire since before he got in office for potentially using the job to pad his bottom-line.

Early on, watchdogs warned of violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bars the president from accepting payments from foreign governments. The Constitution also bars him from taking payments from federal or state governments.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) singled out such payments in a letter to the Secret Service and the White House Counsel seeking details on Trump’s recent attempts to woo G7 nations to hold their next international summit at Trump’s Doral Miami resort.

“Potential violations of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution are of grave concern to the Committee as it considers whether to recommend articles of impeachment,” Nadler and subcommittee Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen wrote.

The G7 summit is a large annual conference including seven of the world's largest economic powers. Trump admitted late last month he was pursuing the idea of holding it at his resort, but insisted he'd make no money off of it.

It is Pence’s trip to Ireland that seems to have especially stoked the committee’s ire.

On his international swing in that wrapped up late Thursday, one of Pence's stops was in Ireland. Instead of staying in Dublin to meet with leaders, he overnighted at Trump's Doonbeg resort 180 miles away. Trump stayed there before at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $3.6 million.

Nadler and Cohen also noted reports from May that said Trump called off a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar because he refused to go meet Trump at Doonbeg on ethical grounds.

"The threat that the president's personal financial interests could shape decisions concerning official U.S. government activities is precisely the type of risks the Emoluments Clauses were intended to minimize," they wrote.

"The impact that the President's business interests may have on his official conduct and American foreign policy interests demands scrutiny by Congress," they wrote.

All told, the five different letters from the Oversight and Judiciary committees are seeking any discussions Trump or his businesses have had with government agencies about using his properties, including discussions with the Secret Service and legal opinions from the Department of Justice.

In particular, they want Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, to explain his statements that Trump urged Pence to stay at Doonbeg, and they want itemized costs for the diversion.

The administration has argued that Pence was there because his wife’s family has roots in the area.