Last September, Donald Trump said, “Everything you need to know about Hillary Clinton can be understood by this simple phrase: Follow the money.”
He was not wrong about that.
The Clinton Foundation offered all manner of thugs the opportunity to ingratiate themselves with the potential president by donating money to the global charity. That the money didn’t go to Clinton or her family personally did not vaccinate her against potential conflicts. Nor did her promise that she would step down from the foundation’s board and that the charity would stop taking foreign and corporate donations if she won.
Yet to quote Clinton herself, “What difference — at this point, what difference does it make?” She is not the president. Trump is. There are still good reasons to “follow the money.” Millions of them, in fact.
That’s what the Democratic attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia are trying to do. We hope for the good of the country that they succeed in getting the president to release his tax returns. Unless he has something to hide, that would be good for him, too.
On Monday, the District of Columbia and Maryland alleged in a complaint filed in a Maryland federal court that Trump has violated the Constitution’s bans on self-dealing by profiting from his presidency, not only through his hotels and golf clubs but at his Mar-a-Lago resort, where the cost of membership doubled to $200,000 after his election.
Unlike Clinton, Trump never released his tax returns, so we still do not know what foreign entanglements he may have. This is screamingly relevant amid investigations into whether his campaign colluded with the Russians who tried to influence the presidential election in his favor. And if the president has no such ties, why did son Eric Trump reportedly tell a golf writer in 2014 that his family’s golf resorts were being financed by Russian banks? (“We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”)
If the suit goes forward, Brian E. Frosh, the Maryland attorney general, and Karl Racine, the D.C. attorney general, will immediately ask the judge to order Trump to release his tax returns as part of the discovery process. The complaint argues that D.C. and Maryland should have standing to sue because Trump is harming the district and state financially in steering business away from their government-owned convention and resort facilities.
The “emoluments clause” of the Constitution bars federal officials from taking gifts or sweeteners of any kind from foreign or state governments. What exactly constitutes an “emolument” has never been tested in court. But if the current moment doesn’t demand that test, we can’t imagine one that would.