Politics & Government

What does ‘emolument’ mean? Internet searches for word spike after Trump press event

By Brian Murphy

bmurphy@mcclatchy.com

The Constitution’s emoluments clause is back in the news — and that is sending plenty of people to the internet to find out exactly what “emolument” means.

Merriam-Webster saw a spike in searches for the word on Wednesday, after a lawyer for President-elect Donald Trump discussed the clause and how Trump would avoid running afoul of it during his press conference since winning the election. The site also saw a spike in November.

According to Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution, “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, 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.”

Emolument is defined as “the returns arising from office or employment usually in the form of compensation or perquisites,” according to Merriam-Webster.

There is debate about whether Trump’s business holdings, including his hotel in Washington, D.C., will put him at risk of violating the clause. Foreign diplomats have already indicated that they will stay at the hotel to “build ties” with the administration, according to The Washington Post.

Several constitutional law professors and ethics officials believe Trump will be in violation of the clause.

Trump’s lawyer Sheri Dillon disputed that reading of the emoluments clause at Wednesday’s press conference.

The clause, she said, “has never been interpreted ... to apply to fair value exchanges that have absolutely nothing to do with an officeholder. No one would have thought, when the Constitution was written, that paying your hotel bill was an emolument. Instead it would have been thought of as a value for value exchange, not a gift, not a title and not an emolument.

“But since President-elect Trump has been elected some people want to define emoluments to cover routine business transactions, like paying for hotel rooms. They suggest that the Constitution prohibits the businesses from even arms’ length transactions that the president-elect has absolutely nothing to do with and isn’t even aware of.

“These people are wrong. This is not what the Constitution says. Paying for a hotel room is not a gift or a present, and it has nothing to do with an office. It’s not an emolument. The Constitution does not require President-elect Trump to do anything here, but just like with conflicts of interests, he wants to do more than the constitution requires.

“So President-elect Trump has decided and we are announcing today that he is going to voluntarily donate all profits made from foreign government payments made to his hotels to the United States Treasury.”

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