<pre><pre>Noah Bookbinder Questions and answers: Is Trump violating the Constitution of the United States? | U.S

Is President Donald Trump violating the Constitution of the United States by accepting payments from foreign governments through his businesses? It is a question provoked by Trump's controversial decision not to get rid of the more than 500 companies he owns, many of them organized under the umbrella of the Trump Organization, before becoming president.

Instead, he put them in a trust to be managed by their children and an executive of the Trump Organization.

The same question was at the center of a lawsuit filed in January 2017 by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government watchdog organization based in DC.

CREW filed the complaint in a federal court in New York, alleging that Trump was violating the clause on foreign emoluments of the Constitution, the document that establishes the fundamental laws governing the United States.

In December 2017, a judge dismissed the CREW case and discovered that the plaintiffs were not standing because they could not prove they were injured by Trump's business practices. CREW has appealed the decision.

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of CREW [Al Jazeera]

CREW also serves as legal counsel in a lawsuit brought by the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland against Donald J. Trump, which is discussed in the Fault lines episode, all the benefits of the president.

DC and Maryland v Trump alleges that Trump is violating both the foreign and domestic emolument clauses of the Constitution by accepting payments from foreign and state governments at the Trump International Hotel in DC

In March 2018, a federal judge in Maryland ruled that the plaintiffs in this case had a legal position and could proceed.

The Department of Justice declined Fault lines& # 39; interview request on DC and Maryland v. Trump, and in an email in late July, spokesman Andy Reuss wrote: "We continue to argue that this case should be dismissed, a position that was shared by a New York court in a related case. .. determining the next steps to continue vigorously defending the president ".

Noah Bookbinder is the executive director of CREW and a lawyer who has prosecuted federal public corruption cases for the Department of Justice. He has served as Chief Criminal Justice Attorney of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee.

I talk to Fault lines the correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous in August 2018. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Al Jazeera: Donald Trump is an entrepreneur with many properties. Now he is president of the United States and has not renounced those companies. What kind of conflicts of interest does that create?

Noah bookbinder: I think of your decision not to part with your business as the original sin of the Trump presidency, in many ways, because it really creates conflict in almost every decision you make as president.

He has business around the world and means that the foreign policy decisions he makes may be influenced by his business interests. With what country is it important for him to have good relations because he has businesses that depend, in part, on what people think of him in those countries, or that depend on foreign governments that grant tax benefits or easements, or any of the many things which companies depend on.

Their businesses are affected by the tax code, so the important tax reform, so called, approved by Congress and signed by the president, will affect it much more than ordinary people.

Regulatory issues, such as environmental issues and any type of issues related to ownership; All those are going to impact your business. And every time it takes almost any decision, the American people have to ask themselves if they are thinking about their interests or if they are thinking about their financial interests and the performance of their businesses.

Al Jazeera: Who owns the Trump Organization?

Binder: The vast majority is owned by Donald Trump. The only thing he did before taking office was to create this trust that technically has the vast majority of the Trump Organization. But it is anything but a blind trust. It is carried out daily by his children, who are not at all independent of him, and who, according to press reports, inform him quite regularly.

And not only does he know that interest will come back to him after he finishes as president, but trust really allows him to get that money while he is president, if he wants to. Then, they created something that on paper seems a little distance between him and the Trump Organization, but in fact, it does not create a significant barrier.

Therefore, Donald Trump remains, for all intents and purposes, the owner of the Trump Organization, and knows what the commercial interests of the Trump Organization are. Many of them have his name in large letters, and he knows what will help those interests.

Al Jazeera: You mentioned your brand. Do possible conflicts of interest extend, for example, to the president wearing a Trump hat?

Binder: Absolutely. Throughout his tenure as president, we have seen him constantly use the presidency to essentially promote his business and his brand. He talks about his resort in Mar-a-Lago, or his golf club in Bedminster and how good they are, and he does it in the official events he attends as president. He stays and has meetings as president in those places.

He wears Trump brand clothing and, in fact, our investigators discovered that last fall, when he attended several hurricane relief events, he wore a hat that he was also selling on his campaign website.

So, in many ways, there is a very direct use of the presidency to market their businesses, which seems to be an abuse of that office.

Al Jazeera: Donald Trump has always used that kind of thing, why is that a problem now?

Binder: It's a common question: Donald Trump has always been a businessman. He has always promoted his business. Is not that what people should have expected when they chose a businessman as president?

And I think the answer to that is that it's okay to elect someone as president because you're impressed by what they've done with their business, but when they become president they change their responsibilities.

When someone becomes president, the responsibility of that person is with the country and doing what is most convenient for the American people and, at that time, commercial interests should be set aside because people need to have faith that their leaders they work for them It is not that their leaders are working for their own financial benefit.

He could have taken something from a loss if he had transferred his business to a trustee, and had the trustee sell the business. And that seems to be an appropriate sacrifice for someone to do if they want the great privilege of being the President of the United States and leading such a powerful and important country.

When someone becomes president, the responsibility of that person is with the country and doing what is most convenient for the American people and, at that time, commercial interests should be set aside because people need to have faith that their leaders they work for them It is not that their leaders are working for their own financial benefit.

Noah bookbinder, TEAM

Al Jazeera: How is this different from previous presidents of the United States?

Binder: In general, presidents either put all their assets in a true blind trust where they have a trustee who is not someone with whom they have a relationship, and who is in charge of business and holdings of shares and anything else, and has the power of VĂ©ndalos as the administrator considers it appropriate.

Or the presidents have put all their money in mutual funds and common investments where it is clear that they will not exert more influence on those than any other person.

Certainly, in the modern era, we have not had a president of the United States. UU That he has had important international business that he has maintained as president.

Al Jazeera: If a foreign government or a special interest group reserves a room at the Trump International Hotel, is it a conflict of interest?

Binder: It is a conflict of interest because those groups can do it to try to impress the president, approach the president and influence him. And he, in turn, can be influenced by that.

He has made known that he is positively disposed to the people who do business with him and, therefore, every time someone has interests before the president gives him business, and especially if they let them know that they are giving him business. He, we have to assume that there is at least a possibility that they are doing it to try to influence him and that they can succeed.

And that is really problematic. That is not the basis on which politics in the United States should be made.

The Akoya Golf Club by Damac Trump International in Dubai opened in February 2017 [Francois Nel/Getty Images]

Al Jazeera: There has been a series of lawsuits against the president related to these matters, one filed by the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia, and his organization is also a party. What do you hope to achieve with the demand?

Binder: The framers of the Constitution understood, even more than 200 years ago, that the dangers of having a president can be influenced by payments from foreign governments, states or even the federal government. That there is a real danger that the president will be influenced in his decision making based on this type of payments.

The drafters of the Constitution also understood that proving that a decision was made due to a payment from a foreign government or a national government is going to be very difficult, so they established what is essentially a prophylactic ban. They simply said: you can not get benefits from governments.

And Trump, in running his business and continuing to manage them the way he always manages them, is violating that on a daily basis.

What we are finally looking for with these lawsuits is a court that says: One, he is violating the Constitution. That in itself would be really significant. And two, you have to stop doing it.

Al Jazeera: What is the meaning of the federal judge in Maryland, Judge Messitte, who allows the case (DC and Maryland v. Trump) to proceed?

Binder: First, it means that we can move towards discovery. That means that Maryland and DC are requesting documents and records of the president's business and to find out what payments the president of foreign governments receives, of the states, all those things.

The other thing that is extremely important is that, for the first time in more than two centuries of United States history, there is a court that says what the emolument clauses of the Constitution of the United States mean. The court accepted the definition of emoluments that Maryland, the District of Columbia, and we sought, which is a broad definition that says essentially that the president can not receive benefits and payments and profits from foreign governments, from states, of the United States. the federal government.

The president wanted to see him very closely and say that the only thing he can not do is accept a bribe or sign a work contract with a foreign government. He tried to say that he can not be on the payroll of Russia or Saudi Arabia or whoever he is, but beyond that, he can accept as many payments as he wants. The court said "no" to that.

For the first time in more than two centuries of the history of the United States, there is a court that says what the emolument clauses of the United States Constitution mean … He (Trump) was trying to say that he can not be in The Payroll of Russia or Saudi Arabia or whoever, but beyond that, you can accept as many payments as you want. The court said "no" to that.

Noah bookbinder, TEAM

Al Jazeera: the judge limited the claim to the Trump International Hotel; Why do you think he did that?

Binder: He did it in large part because there are doubts about who is the correct party to present this type of case. Upon discovering that the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia were appropriate parties to challenge the president for these violations, he observed how the president's actions affected Maryland and DC and discovered that they were affected by the types of unconstitutional payments and benefits that the president I was arriving in the Washington, DC area

And most or all of that is based on the president's hotel in Washington. That does not mean that someone else can not file a lawsuit, either in New York or elsewhere, and say that we were affected by these unconstitutional payments that the president took here.

Al Jazeera: The Trump Organization pledged to donate any benefit of foreign government sponsorship in its hotels while Trump is in charge before the United States government. Earlier this year, he issued a check for more than $ 151,000 to the Treasury, the amount the organization says it made foreign governments in 2017. Should not that take care of the problem?

Binder: It really is not like that, and it was a policy and a promise that was full of holes from the moment it was placed in its place. In the first place, it is not clear that the fact of giving away benefits, even if he were giving away all the benefits, really takes care of the constitutional issue. There is still money that comes to your business from foreign governments, from state governments; It is probably a constitutional problem, even if there are no gains.

But beyond that, it is very difficult to know what constitutes a profit, especially for a business like a hotel. Having more people staying in a hotel, even at cost, can be very useful for a hotel that would otherwise have an empty room, and we do not know which method they used to calculate the profit. We can not really assume that they were accurate and truly close to that.

We really have no way of verifying how they arrived at that number or if it is the correct number.

The Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, is at the center of a lawsuit accusing Trump of unconstitutionally accepting gifts from foreign and state governments through the hotel while occupying the White House. [Reuters]

Al Jazeera: What's wrong with the Trump family? Her children run the Trump Organization, her daughter is a senior adviser to the White House and she is also involved in the business. What type of conflict of interest do they pose?

Binder: This country has laws against nepotism because it does not want people to be selected for high-level positions based on their relationship with the president or their relationship with anyone else. They must be selected for high-level positions because they are the right people for those jobs.

There is a debate about whether those laws apply specifically to White House staff, but regardless of that, the principles should and that is a problem for one of the president's daughters and her son-in-law to have high-level positions.

Then, there is the fact that Ivanka Trump owns a part of the Trump Organization and certainly, through marriage, her husband also benefits from that, so all the conflicts that Donald Trump himself has now are shared by two advisers. principal and that magnifies the scope of these possible conflicts of interest.

In addition, Ivanka Trump had her own business, which had interests all over the world. She has said that at least it is partially closing that. It is not clear exactly the extent of that. That seems to be a positive step, but in many ways, it's too little, too late.

As for the president's children, they are not government officials, but they are clearly in regular contact with the president, which undermines, to some extent, their claims of separation from the companies.

Al Jazeera: From a broader perspective, does this really represent something new in Washington? You have a system where lobbying is allowed and it is the way things work. Donors pay for political influence; Why is this something different?

Binder: CREW has been concerned for years by the campaign financing system that gives excessive influence to industries and other monetary interests. For years we have been concerned about the power of lobbyists. These are real and continuous problems.

Ironically, concerns about some of those problems are part of what led to the emergence of Trump.

That said, I think there is a real difference between a system that allows monetary interests to influence their influence more than normal people, however problematic it may be, and a system in which the people in charge are using the government for their own personal financial gain.

That begins to look more and more like an oligarchy or kleptocracy. This is not the kind of country we have thought we have in the United States and it is a line that we can not and should not cross.

We must also solve the problem with money in politics and dealing with this crisis of current ethics does not exempt us from the responsibility to do so. But I think this is one more line that is crossing.

Al Jazeera: What is ultimately at stake here?

Binder: I believe that what is ultimately at stake is the integrity of our democracy. It is a question of whether we have a government that is operating for the benefit of the American people, or one that promotes the interests of those responsible. And that is a really fundamental question.

I also believe that when it comes to issues of ethics and corruption, the tone is set at the top and, therefore, when the president makes this decision to keep his business, regardless of the really significant conflicts that would cause, that was a problem. message that came out clearly and clearly and that, I think, is part of why he has now seen ethics issues in cabinet secretaries throughout the government, ethical issues for White House officials in large numbers and now more and more current and former advisors to the president in his campaign and to his private companies in his administration who are being convicted of crimes.

The tone is set at the top. That was a really bad tone to configure and now we are seeing the results of that.