Looks like Mick ‘The Mouth’ gave law­suit against Trump a boost

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - MARYLAND -

Of all the ways Don­ald Trump has de­meaned the pres­i­dency — and there is a long buf­fet of state­ments and ac­tions that qual­ify — the cheesi­est and greasi­est might have been sum­ma­rized last Sun­day by his act­ing chief of staff, Mick “The Mouth” Mul­vaney. “At the end of the day,” Mick said of his boss, “he still con­sid­ers him­self to be in the hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness.”

Had he lived to hear that ad­mis­sion, I could imag­ine Eli­jah Cum­mings’ response: “Ex­actly! That’s the prob­lem!”

Cum­mings, the widely re­spected Baltimore con­gress­man who died Oct. 17, came out early and ur­gently for Trump to di­vest him­self of his many busi­ness in­ter­ests. In De­cem­ber 2016, as Trump pre­pared to take of­fice, Cum­mings held a fo­rum on the ob­scure emol­u­ments clause of the Con­sti­tu­tion, a kind of civics les­son on the na­tion’s first anti-cor­rup­tion law.

“The only way [Trump] can prop­erly do this,” Cum­mings said, “is to fully di­vest, to avoid even the ap­pear­ance of a con­flict of in­ter­est.”

It was not enough for the pres­i­dent-elect to turn his busi­ness oper­a­tions over to his kids, Cum­mings said, be­cause prof­its from var­i­ous deals, some of them in­volv­ing for­eign gov­ern­ments, would con­tinue to flow back to Trump. The solution was com­plete di­vesti­ture and the cre­ation of a blind trust managed by a neu­tral party. Short of that, Cum­mings said, Trump would al­ways be sus­pected of serv­ing his per­sonal in­ter­ests over the in­ter­ests of the coun­try.

But, of course, Trump did not take the ad­vice. And so, nearly three years later, there was Mick The Mouth on FOX, talk­ing about Trump’s pro­posal to host the 2020 G-7 sum­mit at his Florida re­sort, es­sen­tially con­firm­ing Cum­mings’ sus­pi­cions: “He still con­sid­ers him­self to be in the hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness.”

The plan to bring for­eign lead­ers to Trump Na­tional Do­ral grossed ev­ery­one out, even many Repub­li­cans, so Trump dropped the plan. “He was hon­estly sur­prised at the level of push­back,” Mick The Mouth said.

To the ex­tent any­thing Trump says or does can be con­sid­ered hon­est, I’ll go with Mick on that. On Wed­nes­day, a bit­ter Trump at­tached an ad­jec­tive to the emol­u­ments clause, call­ing it the “phony emol­u­ments clause.”

But there’s noth­ing phony about it. “The beauty of the emol­u­ments clause,” says Brian Frosh, the Mary­land at­tor­ney gen­eral, “is that it is sim­ple and flatly pro­hib­i­tive.”

The emol­u­ments clause states that no of­fice-holder “shall, with­out the con­sent of the Congress, ac­cept of any present, emol­u­ment, of­fice or ti­tle of any kind what­ever from any king, prince or for­eign state.”

An­other clause goes a step fur­ther to pro­hibit do­mes­tic emol­u­ments. (Mer­ri­amWeb­ster de­fines emol­u­ment as “the re­turns aris­ing from of­fice or em­ploy­ment usu­ally in the form of compensati­on or perquisite­s.”)

Frosh, of course, has taken Trump to court with a law­suit that claims un­prece­dented con­sti­tu­tional vi­o­la­tions ev­ery time for­eign and state government vis­i­tors pay to stay at the Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel in the fed­er­ally-owned Old Post Of­fice Pav­il­ion in down­town Wash­ing­ton. In 2017, Frosh teamed with Karl Racine, the at­tor­ney gen­eral for the District of Columbia, to claim that Trump at­tracts busi­ness away from other ho­tels, in the District and in Mary­land, when for­eign gov­ern­ments book blocks of rooms at Trump In­ter­na­tional to curry pres­i­den­tial fa­vor. The state and district lose tax rev­enues, too.

To Trump sup­port­ers, it looked like Frosh, a Demo­crat, was con­duct­ing a par­ti­san at­tack. But, of course, they say that about ev­ery­thing. They’re say­ing it about the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s law­suit, filed Wed­nes­day, against the apart­ment man­age­ment com­pany owned by Trump ad­viser and son-in-law Jared Kush­ner.

Be­lieve it or not, some peo­ple in this coun­try are still mo­ti­vated by prin­ci­ples, guided by ethics, in­formed by facts and de­voted to the Con­sti­tu­tion. Some peo­ple in pub­lic life have earned our trust. Brian Frosh is one of them.

But, while some­thing had to be done — some 70% of Amer­i­cans in a 2016 Bloomberg News poll said that Trump had to choose be­tween be­ing pres­i­dent and be­ing a busi­ness­man — I thought Frosh’s emol­u­ments law­suit was a stretch.

Given that Trump had re­fused, at least for the du­ra­tion of his pres­i­dency, to give up own­er­ship in dozens of companies in sev­eral coun­tries, what was the rem­edy? Even if a court found him to be in vi­o­la­tion of the emol­u­ments clause, what then? And im­me­di­ate to the law­suit brought by Mary­land and the District were these ques­tions: How would Frosh and Racine demon­strate they had stand­ing? What harm could they prove?

So there was lit­tle sur­prise in July when a fed­eral three-judge panel ruled in Trump’s fa­vor, say­ing the premise of the Mary­landD.C. law­suit was ab­stract and the claims of busi­ness loss spec­u­la­tive. The case ap­peared to be dead.

And yet, two weeks ago, new life! The U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the 4th Cir­cuit agreed to re­hear the mat­ter — this time, en banc, with all 15 judges of the court.

It strikes me that Mick The Mouth’s ad­mis­sion about Trump — not the sen­sa­tional one about a quid pro quo with Ukraine, but the one about the pres­i­dent be­ing in the hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness — is a gift to the res­i­dents of Mary­land. It bol­sters the state’s case.

“It does,” Frosh said last week. “It shows [the is­sue] in high re­lief.” The com­ment, he added, could not be “more in-your-face” about Trump’s con­flicts.

No­body asked me, but if I’m Frosh, I’m quot­ing Mick The Mouth when I get be­fore the judges of the 4th Cir­cuit. Oral ar­gu­ments are sched­uled for mid-De­cem­ber in Rich­mond.

EVAN VUCCI/AP

Dur­ing a news con­fer­ence, White House act­ing chief of staff Mick Mul­vaney de­fended Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion, later re­versed, to hold an in­ter­na­tional meet­ing at his own golf club.

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