Trump and the Law of Rule

Two weeks after the election, Donald Trump told The New York Times that “the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” It was reminiscent of the time Nixon said, “When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

It is important to keep that in mind when looking at incidents like the one just reported by Judd Legum and Kira Lerner.

The Embassy of Kuwait allegedly cancelled a contract with a Washington, D.C. hotel days after the presidential election, citing political pressure to hold its National Day celebration at the Trump International Hotel instead.

A source tells ThinkProgress that the Kuwaiti embassy, which has regularly held the event at the Four Seasons in Georgetown, abruptly canceled its reservation after members of the Trump Organization pressured the ambassador to hold the event at the hotel owned by the president-elect. The source, who has direct knowledge of the arrangements between the hotels and the embassy, spoke to ThinkProgress on the condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to speak publicly. ThinkProgress was also able to review documentary evidence confirming the source’s account.

Legum and Lerner report on the legal status of such an effort.

Although the president is exempt from some conflict-of-interest laws, the Congressional Research Service recently identified nine federal conflict of interest and ethics provisions that could apply to the president.

One looms large over the apparent hotel deal with the Kuwaitis: The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits the president from receiving money from a foreign government or head of state.

According to Democratic and Republican legal experts, such a payment is not only unconstitutional, it’s an impeachable offense.

But Trump’s BFF Newt Gingrich—who oversaw the impeachment of Bill Clinton for lying about a sexual affair—has an answer for that.

Newt Gingrich has a take on how Donald Trump can keep from running afoul of U.S. ethics laws: Change the ethics laws…

“We’ve never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don’t work,” Gingrich said Monday during an appearance on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show” about the president-elect’s business interests. “We’re going to have to think up a whole new approach.”

And should someone in the Trump administration cross the line, Gingrich has a potential answer for that too.

“In the case of the president, he has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon,” Gingrich said. “It’s a totally open power. He could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anyone finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period. Technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”

During the presidential campaign, one of Trump’s themes was that he would restore law and order. What we are likely to see a lot over the next four years is that, when it comes to his own administration, we’ll get the law of rule more than the rule of law. Given all the comparisons we’re already witnessing to Richard Nixon, one is tempted to wonder if Congress will produce any Howard Bakers from the Republican ranks.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.