THE signature cocktail at the bar of the Trump International Hotel, in the Old Post Office building in Washington, is a $100 vodka potion served with oysters and caviar. It is called “The Benjamin” after Benjamin Franklin, America’s first postmaster-general. “You can see anyone from Rudy Giuliani to foreign dignitaries to businessmen from Dubai here,” says a bartender, who serves drinks under a vast American flag on loan from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank. She likes her job for the “exposure” it affords. Franklin, a signatory to the constitution, may not have been so impressed.
Over the 230 years since then, no court has had occasion to weigh in on the meaning of two so-called “emoluments” clauses in America’s founding document. One says presidents may receive only their salary, and no other payment, from the federal government or the states. The other bans federal officials from receiving “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever” from a foreign state without the approval of Congress.