MANHATTAN (CN) — Already under fire for foreign business ties described as a “creeping, insidious threat to the republic,” President Donald Trump drew attention to his potential domestic conflicts-of-interest by reviving an oil pipeline that could financially benefit him.
On Tuesday, Trump resurrected the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172-mile structure dicing across sacred Native American territory.
Former President Barack Obama had retreated from the project amid a groundswell of protest from indigenous North Dakota residents and their allies over the pipeline’s environmental toll and infringement of the treaty rights of the Standing Rock Indian Tribe.
Standing Rock’s chairman Dave Archambault II vowed opposition to the project in a statement Tuesday.
“Americans know this pipeline was unfairly rerouted toward our nation and without our consent,” he said. “The existing pipeline risks infringing on our treaty rights, contaminating our water and the water of 17 million Americans downstream.”
Opposition to Trump’s announcement has been immediate, with protests scheduled this afternoon outside two of the new president's residences.
At 6 p.m., a New York protest will launch at Columbus Circle in Midtown Manhattan to the Trump Tower, where Trump said he would stay when he is not in the Oval Office.
The international environmental organization 350.org, named for its goal to reduce carbon dioxide concentration to 350 parts million, will organize the Washington contingent gathering outside the White House.
But Trump’s executive order may inspire more than a throng of angry marchers outside his homes.
A Supreme Court litigator suing Trump for his “vast, complicated and secret” business network said in an interview that the new president’s financial ties to the Dakota Access Pipeline could put him in a collision course with the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“There’s no question that Donald Trump is subject to that clause,” said attorney Deepak Gupta, a founding principal of the Washington-based constitutional litigation firm Gupta Wessler. “There’s no question that he’s violating that clause.”
According to his 2016 federal disclosure forms, Trump owned between $15,000 and $50,000 in stock in the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, and between $100,000 and $250,000 in Phillips 66. Energy Transfer Partners is the parent company of Dakota Access, LLC, which is constructing the pipeline.
Its CEO Kecly Warren donated $103,000 to Trump’s campaign and $66,800 to the Republican National Committee, The Guardian reported.
Phillips 66 has a one-quarter share of the Dakota Access Pipeline, CBS News reported.
Without any apparent irony, the president had his son Eric Trump tell the New York Times on Monday that the lawsuit was “purely harassment for political gain.”
For Gupta, the fact that Trump transmitted the message through his son was as interesting as the content of the statement.
“That’s fascinating and kind of makes our point,” Gupta said. “Why is [Eric Trump] commenting?”
Though primarily focused on the foreign emoluments clause, Gupta’s lawsuit does mention the domestic equivalent.
“The president shall, at stated times, receive for his services, a compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that period any other emolument from the United States, or any of them,” the clause states.
Gupta said that this clause is what inspired former President Jimmy Carter to sell his peanut farm before moving into the Oval Office.
Achambault, the Standing Rock chairman, viewed Trump’s maneuver as political payback for his wealthy contributors.
“We are not opposed to energy independence,” he said in a statement. “We are opposed to reckless and politically motivated development projects, like DAPL, that ignore our treaty rights and our water. Creating a second Flint will not make America great again.”
Achambault’s reference to drinking water contamination in Flint, Michigan, comes nearly three years after that public health crisis began in April 2014.
Trump’s executive order today terminates an environmental review assessing the pipeline’s danger to the tribe’s water supply.
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