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Zephyr Teachout Explains Why Trump’s Kids Running His Empire Is ‘Corruption 101’

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Fordham law school professor and former gubernatorial and congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout was joined by a handful of protesters outside Trump Tower today to deliver a petition, with more than 400,000 signatures, demanding that president-elect Donald Trump divest from his business interests before assuming the presidency.

“We haven’t had a crisis like this before, because for over 200 years presidents haven’t even walked up to the line of crossing this basic foreign bribery clause,” Teachout told the group.

She recalled an anecdote about President Martin Van Buren, who in 1840 found himself the recipient of a sword and some pearls — a gift from the Imam of Muscot. President Van Buren responded by securing a joint resolution of Congress, which allowed him to sell the wares and give the proceeds to the Department of State and the Treasury. Imagine Trump doing anything of the sort.

Teachout, who has written a book on government corruption, noted that Trump isn’t simply violating a “law” by refusing to put his assets in a blind trust — he’s violating the Constitution.

She noted, “It’s like, corruption 101 to give it to his kids,” who have been involved to an unprecedented degree in his transition to the White House.

As a portrait of how such conflicts could potentially manifest, she points to Andrew Mellon, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under several presidents, starting with Warren G. Harding. In addition to slashing taxes for the ultra rich, Mellon also refused to separate himself from his business interests, both of which led directly to the 1929 stock market crash, which preceded the Great Depression.

“There’s a fundamental conflict between what is best for the Trump organization and what’s best for the country,” she said, adding that foreign interests like Russia and China, who will be chomping at the bit to exploit it, pose a particularly grave threat. “That’s why understanding it as a national security risk is so important. They’re going to leverage that power they have over Trump organizations.”

Democrats have recently zeroed in on Trump’s ballyhooed Trump Washington D.C. Hotel, pointing to the heretofore little-known Emoluments Clause, which mandates that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], 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.”

Juxtapose that with this sentence from a report in the Washington Post:

“Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor’?” said one Asian diplomat.

“The constitution very overtly says that he can’t be taking foreign payments,” Teachout said. “And so he will be violating the constitution the day he takes office.”

In addition to this obvious conflict, Teachout says that Trump’s hotels present a glaring national security risk. “Every Trump hotel abroad becomes a target,” she said. “It’s creating incredible vulnerabilities for corruption and violence.”

Earlier this week, Trump rescinded his promise to hold a press conference to discuss his business assets, postponing it “indefinitely.”

Busy times, indeed. Trump spent the morning tweeting about Vanity Fair’s readership and commenting on the literary prowess of its editor, Graydon Carter.

The petition signatures were packed into seven cardboard boxes and carried through the gilded doors of Trump Tower, a modest display of democracy penetrating the membrane of Trump’s flagship monument to greed and vulgarity. Secret Service agents refused to let anyone deliver the petitions, and no one came down to receive them.

Alexis Grenell, a spokesperson for Common Cause NY, said similar deliveries were made at Trump’s other properties in Chicago, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, though it’s unclear whether they were received.

The Electoral College will cast its vote for President on December 19.