Did Trump Engage in Bribery & Extortion To Secure Chinese Trademarks? Three Former Federal Prosecutors Think It’s Possible

After a years of delays and hard hitting policies, China granted approval of 38 trademark claims to Trump and his businesses. And in recent days, Beijing also expedited approval of six trademarks for the President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump — with almost a dozen more in review.

In an op-ed posted to Times Union, three former federal prosecutors — including our Board Chair Ben Clements,  Joseph F. Savage and Joshua Levy — make the case that Trump’s tactics surpassed “ethical violations” to secure trademark approvals by the Chinese.

The piece begins,

The sudden decision of China’s Trademark Office to approve 38 trademark claims of Donald Trump and the Trump Organization, after rejecting the claims for more than a decade, is among the most suspicious of the many financial benefits President Trump has received from foreign governments since taking the oath of office. The lucrative trademarks include Trump’s full name, his last name, variations on his name, and Chinese translations of his name, and cover various industries.

It has been widely observed that Trump’s receipt of these trademarks appears to violate the foreign corruption (or “emoluments”) clause of the Constitution. The circumstances surrounding these trademark awards, however, also raise serious questions about whether Trump, the Trump Organization, and others acting on their behalf may have violated the federal bribery and extortion laws.

Starting in 2006, Trump and the Trump Organization sought to persuade Chinese authorities to award the right to register dozens of trademarks. These efforts were fruitless until, last Nov. 13, just days after Trump was elected president, China’s Trademark Office suddenly reversed course and, for the first time, granted preliminary approval of a Trump Organization construction services trademark. (The Trademark Office had invalidated a rival claim for certain Trump trademarks in September, shortly before the election).

The authors continue reporting on Trump’s activities that followed his taking office, and potential violations of  several federal criminal statutes — including federal extortion law, which prohibits public officials from obtaining or seeking to obtain property “under color of official right” — “for example, by encouraging or accepting payments prompted by the hope that the official will be influenced in the exercise of his or her governmental powers.”

Days after Trump made his official “One China” declaration, on Feb. 15, China’s Trademark Office granted final approval of the Trump Organization construction services trademark. On Feb. 27, Trump held his first face-to-face meeting with a member of the Chinese leadership, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, at the White House. That same day, and on March 6, in a break with usual protocol and 10 years of prior rulings, China’s Trademark Office gave preliminary approval for 38 additional trademarks, most of them in Trump’s name personally.

There has been no explanation for the sudden reversal. It appears the only thing that has changed is that Trump is now president.

While Senators have raised alarm and notified the Office of Government Ethics, the authors argue that may not be enough considering the severity. As the piece points out,

Eighteen U.S. senators recently wrote to the Office of Government Ethics to express their “(alarm) that the awarding of valuable trademarks by the Chinese government to President Trump and the Trump Organization in exchange for favorable policy decisions may run afoul of the Emoluments (corruption) Clause of the Constitution and federal anti-bribery laws.” The senators inquired whether the Ethics Office was consulted on the issue and, if so, what advice it provided.

While that inquiry is an important first step, it does not go far enough.

The full article is available here.

About the authors

Ben T. Clements is a founding partner of the law firm of Clements & Pineault, LLP, and previously served as a federal prosecutor in the Public Corruption Unit of the Boston U.S. Attorney’s Office and as chief legal counsel to former Mass. Gov. Deval L. Patrick. Ben Clements is also the Chair of the Board for Free Speech For People.  Joseph F. Savage is a Boston lawyer and previously served as a federal prosecutor and the chief of the Public Corruption Unit of the Boston U.S. Attorney’s Office. Joshua Levy is a partner at Ropes & Gray, co-head of the firm’s Government Enforcement practice and a former federal prosecutor in the Boston U.S. Attorney’s Office.