• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG


Updated Jan 4, 2024, 3:39pm EST
politicsNorth America
icon

Semafor Signals

Trump made millions from foreign governments while in office, Democrats say

Insights from the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Vanity Fair

Arrow Down
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event on December 19 in Waterloo, Iowa.
(Getty Images/Scott Olson)
PostEmailWhatsapp
Title icon

The News

Donald Trump’s businesses received at least $7.8 million in payments from 20 foreign officials and governments during his presidency, according to a report released Thursday by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee. China and Saudi Arabia topped the list as the biggest spenders.

The report argues the transactions violate the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, which bars federal officials from accepting money or gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval. It also cautions that the payments it identified are “likely only a small fraction” of the total amount, due to incomplete disclosures.

AD
icon

SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Democrats say the findings show the hypocrisy of the Hunter Biden controversy

Source icon
Sources:  
The Wall Street Journal, USA Today

Republicans are trying to impeach President Joe Biden by arguing, without evidence, that he peddled influence to foreign governments via his son’s business dealings before taking office. House Democrats were eager to call out the apparent hypocrisy displayed by Trump’s dealings abroad during his tenure, The New York Times reported.

Republicans have rebuffed the comparison. House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) said in a statement that “Former President Trump has legitimate businesses but the Bidens do not,” calling Democrats’ investigation into Trump an “obsession” that is “beyond parody.”

Details about Trump’s “ethical nightmare” were previously known

Source icon
Source:  
Vanity Fair

In 2020, Vanity Fair reported that four foreign government entities — China, Qatar, India, and the United Arab Emirates — were known to have rented space in Trump’s buildings during his presidency. “Trump’s tenant relationships create one of the most significant potential conflicts of interest in American history,” the outlet wrote at the time, calling it an “ethical nightmare.”

And during the notorious July 2019 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate the Bidens, Zelenskyy also mentioned having recently stayed at Trump Tower in New York City.

China was the biggest spender by far, and Democrats allege that affected policy

Source icon
Source:  
The Wall Street Journal

The Chinese government and entities linked to it were easily the biggest spenders of the group, clocking in at $5.5 million – or nine times the next-largest bill, according to the report. Democrats argue the payments could have influenced Trump’s foreign policy toward China, highlighting remarks the former president made around the time they occurred.

After the Chinese Embassy put down a more than $19,000 deposit in November 2017, Trump “lavished praise on President Xi” during a trip to China, the report said, and “notably, defended Chinese trade practices in stark contrast to his previous public pronouncements.”

It is not clear to what degree these expenditures affected Trump’s policies toward China, but regardless, the report’s authors argued the Constitution still bars any transaction “through which a foreign government could subtly curry favor and ingratiate itself.”

Semafor Logo
AD