The Chinese government has just handed Donald Trump’s business a very valuable gift, and it may be an impeachable offense, reports Vanity Fair.
It took only a month after taking office to end the ten-year legal battle with China over rights to the Trump brand. The Trump trademark was originally registered by a man named Dong Wei, but this week China removed that trademark and handed it over to the president. The rulings grants a 10-year trademark on the Trump name for construction inside the country.
The trademark is a lucrative asset for Trump Organization. Trump’s eponymous company is still run by his two sons who have a lot to gain financially from trademark rights in China. Trump himself still receives royalties from Trump Organization’s profits.
If you’re wondering if this is a massive ethics violation, it is. More importantly, it violates the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which makes it an impeachable offense.
Trump’s attorneys in China insist the ruling was based solely on the strength of his legal claim, not his presidency. “It is not possible that President Trump got favors from the Chinese government,” Zhou Dandan of Unitalen Attorneys at Law in Beijing told The Washington Post.
Alan Garten, chief legal officer at the Trump Organization, says that because the paperwork predates the presidency, there is no legal issue with the ruling.
Of course, not everyone sees it this way.
“There can be no question that it is a terrible idea for Donald Trump to be accepting the registration of these valuable property rights from China while he’s a sitting president of the United States,” said Norman Eisen, a former White House ethics lawyer for President Barack Obama. “It’s fair to conclude that this is an effort to influence Mr. Trump that is relatively inexpensive for the Chinese, potentially very valuable to him, but it could be very costly for the United States.”
ABC reports that Trump has 49 pending trademark applications and 77 already registered, in China alone, most of which will come up for renewal while he is in office. Why should American citizens believe he will not use his position of power to ensure that he is awarded every application he has?
Eisen is part of a larger lawsuit against the president over foreign governments paying to stay at his hotels and renting space at his office buildings. Trump’s lawyers deny the lawsuit holds any ground, but it is moving forward regardless.
With the impeachable offenses already growing against the president only 30 days into his term, it will be interesting to see how the administration withstands the countless legal battles. Ranging from conflicts of interest to colluding with the Russian state, Trump has a long way to go if he ever wants to be seen as a legitimate president (or, as legitimate as a president who lost by 3 million votes can be).
Dan Arel is a bestselling author of The Secular Activist; and Parenting Without God. He is an award-winning journalist and host of the Danthropology Podcast.