Update: Congressional Democrats are filing a lawsuit against President Trump on Wednesday, claiming he violated the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, which restricts presidents from receiving gifts and benefits from foreign governments. The lawsuit comes just two days after the city of Washington D.C. and the state of Maryland also sued the president for allegedly having conflicts of interest.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the lead senator in the federal lawsuit, told The Washington Post 196 Democrats have joined so far. He added that no Republicans are participating in the lawsuit, but they're invited to do so if they want.
This story was originally published on June 12, 2017.
President Trump's week isn't off to a great start.
In an unprecedented move, attorneys general representing the city of Washington D.C. and the state of Maryland sued the president on Monday, claiming he broke the Constitution's anti-corruption clauses. The lawsuit, given to The Washington Post, alleges that by keeping ownership of his company, Trump has in effect received money and benefits from foreign governments.
In January, Trump's transition team held a news conference to show the country the president-elect was transferring the Trump Organisation to his sons by moving its assets into a trust. The future president stood beside a table filled with stacks and stacks of manila envelopes he claimed held documents detailing the transfer of power within the business (although reporters weren't allowed to look at the contents of the folders).
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, both Democrats, don't think setting up the trust was enough to avoid conflicts of interest. Rather than selling the family empire, Trump remained ownership, and his sons have said they will give him updates on how the business is doing.
On Friday, the Justice Department responded to a lawsuit filed by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) with a lengthy brief arguing that Trump's business can legally receive money from other governments for things like foreign officials staying at Trump hotels or renting out space in Trump properties. Since taking office, foreign governments including Saudi Arabia and Turkey have booked rooms or event space at Trump-owned hotels.
The problem with the president profiting from a foreign state in any capacity comes down to the fact that his policies and diplomatic decisions could be influenced by said governments (or, at the very least, raise concerns that they were).
"Fundamental to a President’s fidelity to [faithfully execute his oath of office] is the Constitution’s demand that the President ... disentangle his private finances from those of domestic and foreign powers," the new lawsuit reads, according to The Post. "Never before has a President acted with such disregard for this constitutional prescription."
Investigating Trump's financial entanglement with the Trump Organisation would require his tax returns, which he refuses to release to the public. If a federal judge orders Trump to give up his financial records and he holds steady on his refusal, the case could end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The suit also claims Trump has received illegal favours from the U.S. government, as he was allowed to keep a lease on the Old Post Office building that now houses a Trump hotel (despite a clause prohibiting an “elected official of the government of the United States” from deriving “any benefit”) and has created an atmosphere where states can grant his family business favours.
Racine told The Washington Post, "We’re getting in here to be the check and balance that it appears Congress is unwilling to be."