Is the Emoluments Clause the Key to Finally Seeing Trump’s Tax Returns?

Conservative law professor David Post takes a look at Wednesday’s district court opinion in the “emoluments” case against Donald Trump and finds it oddly persuasive:

The dispute centers almost entirely, at least at this stage, on the meaning of the term “emolument.” The plaintiffs assert, in essence, that the Trump Organization’s profits from ordinary business transactions — profits that, as the court notes (see footnotes 7 and 8), go into Trump’s pocket, given his continuing ownership of the Trump Organization and the feeble “trust” he set up to hold his ownership stake, which allows him to withdraw money in any amount at any time for any reason — is an “emolument”; the term, in their view, covers “any profit, gain, or advantage.”…So when a foreign government makes payments to the Trump Organization for the use of the facilities at the Trump Hotel in Washington — as several have done — this is an “emolument … from [a] foreign State” and therefore violates the Foreign Emoluments Clause.

….Trump has a different, narrower, interpretation of the term; he argues that it covers only profits “arising from an office or employ.” That is, a payment is only an “emolument” if it is made in connection with official actions, as “compensation for official services.” The President cannot, say, accept a payment from the government of France for giving a speech to the French parliament, or for serving on the Academie Francaise (in his official capacity).

….The court adopted the broader reading pressed by the Plaintiffs, and I have to say that, at least on first reading, I find its analysis to be awfully persuasive. Judge Messitte looks pretty carefully both at internal, textual consistency and the “original public meaning” of the term at the time of the ratification of the Constitution, and all evidence — including pretty overwhelming evidence from Founding-era dictionaries and legal texts — does seem to point to the broader interpretation.

….The political fallout from this ruling could be quite substantial, to put it mildly. Not because it will reveal any “emoluments” that haven’t already been reported on, but because the court could now allow the parties to proceed to discovery, and that could be the first time that the public gets a close look inside the Trump financial empire — at Trump’s tax returns, for example, which would almost certainly be relevant evidence in regard to the nature and scope of the payments that Trump has received to date….Those of us who harbor serious doubts about our President’s integrity and law-abiding nature have believed for a while that he’s hiding something in there, and we may be about to find out whether we’re right or not.

This is a bit dense, but the bottom line is that Post thinks (a) Trump is violating the emoluments clause, and (b) if a court agrees, it will probably allow the plaintiffs to get a look at Trump’s tax returns in order to find out just how substantial the emoluments are.

This frankly sounds a little too good to be true, but you never know these days. Stay tuned.


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