Trump’s China trademarks ‘risk a constitutional crisis’

Analysts say billionaire US president-elect could be violating rules against federal officials receiving gifts from foreign governments

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 11:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 11:31pm

US president-elect Donald Trump has at least 45 trademark applications pending in China, AFP has learned, each of which could potentially violate the US constitution – underlining possible conflicts of interest in his relations with the Asian giant.

Since his election, Trump has angered Beijing by reaching out to Taiwan, appointing China sceptics and threatening punitive tariffs on the country’s exports.

But that has not stopped him from quietly working to secure the rights to his name in the world’s second-largest economy, filing applications as recently as June.

The businessman turned politician already holds at least 72 marks in China, part of an extensive, international portfolio that forms a central pillar of his enormous wealth.

He filed for an additional 42 in April, almost a year after declaring his presidential run, Chinese government data shows, and three more around two months later, having effectively clinched the Republican nomination.

All were filed in his own name and registered at his Trump Tower address in New York.

The approval process typically takes 12 to 18 months, so Chinese authorities will only make their decision long after he takes office this month.

Grants of trademarks, permits, etc could be deemed to be privileges bestowed by a foreign government that are covered by the clause
Robert Painter, White House ethicist for president George W. Bush

Experts from across the US ­political spectrum said the applications could put Trump on a collision course with the US constitution: article 1, section 9, clause 8 forbids federal officials from receiving a gift or “emolument” – a salary, fee or profit – from a foreign government.

“Grants of trademarks, permits, could be deemed to be privileges bestowed by a foreign government that are covered by the clause,” said Robert Painter, a White House ethicist for Republican president George W. Bush.

Barack Obama’s former ethics lawyer, Norman Eisen, agreed: “Each of these trademarks is a potential emolument.”

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The “concern of the constitution is that flows of benefits to presidents from foreign sovereigns will distort their judgment, and trademarks are certainly capable of doing that”.

The constitution has no “specified remedy” for a breach, added Jay Wexler, a constitutional law scholar at Boston University.

However, he said “in my view, impeachment would be the proper remedy for a serious violation”.

During his White House bid, Trump frequently excoriated China, accusing it of “raping” the US with unfair trade and fiscal policies.

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The president-elect’s transition team did not reply to requests for comment by AFP. A lawyer for the Trump Organisation, Alan Garten, asked for a list of questions then did not respond to multiple emails.

Trump has claimed his intellectual property is worth US$3.3 billion, roughly a third of the US$10 billion-plus fortune he reported in a July 2015 statement.