The Richmond City Council will on Tuesday consider a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to investigate whether President Donald Trump’s numerous business holdings are in violation of the Constitution and warrant his impeachment.
The resolution, which is largely symbolic, urges the House of Representatives’ Committee of the Judiciary to investigate Trump’s business ties for possible violations of the “Emoluments Clause,” a previously obscure provision in the Constitution that bars presidents from accepting gifts or making a profit from foreign states. The clause has never been tested in court.
Richmond officials say their city is the first to consider passing a resolution of this kind, although many other local governments across the country, including San Francisco and Alameda counties, have passed resolutions opposing the Trump agenda. Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin introduced the resolution.
This is hardly the first move to investigate Trump’s potential conflicts of interest. Throughout the course of the last election, journalists and political watchdogs have been scrupulously monitoring Trump’s business dealings — inquiries made all the more difficult without the release of his tax returns.
Many worry that Trump is using his new title to expand his empire and believe he is using connections with foreign dignitaries to promote his brand. Shortly after the inauguration, membership fees at Trump’s exclusive Palm Beach country club Mar-a-Lago doubled in price to $200,000 per year, and the president has since spent several weekends — including one with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — at the resort. Trump has even attempted to dub the property “The Winter White House” and “The Southern White House.”
In January, Citizens for Responsibiliy and Ethics in Washington, a political watchdog group, filed suit against Trump for alleged violations of the clause. They say it prohibits Trump from taking any money from foreign states, even for services rendered. That would mean that Trump-owned hotels and properties that rent space to foreign entities — such as a state-controlled Chinese bank at Trump Tower — are in violation of the Constitution.
“President Trump has made his slogan ‘America First,’” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder in a statement about the suit. “So you would think he would want to strictly follow the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, since it was written to ensure our government officials are thinking of Americans first, and not foreign governments.”
At a press conference in January, during which Trump announced his controversial divestment plans, attorney Sherri Dillon said that hotel transactions are not a violation of the clause.
“These people are wrong,” Dillon said. “This is not what the Constitution says. Paying for a hotel room is not a gift or a present and it has nothing to do with an office. It’s not an emolument.”
Richmond’s City Council, the most progressive local government in Contra Costa County, is expected to pass the resolution.
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