Maryland and Washington, DC sued President Donald Trump on Monday, charging the Commander in Chief with improperly accepting foreign payments and gifts in violation of the US Constitution.
Attorneys General in DC and Maryland — Karl Racine and Brian Frosh — brought the suit. It marks the first time ever that government bodies have sued a sitting President for betraying the Emoluments Clause.
The plaintiffs allege that, despite handing off the Trump Organization to his sons two be managed, Trump is still very much involved in its operations, and, therefore, receiving payments from foreign governments, which is prohibited by the Emoluments Clause.
The President has never relinquished ownership of the Trump Organization. Public statements made by Eric Trump suggest that Trump regularly briefs his father on business matters. And ProPublica discovered in April that the President can withdraw money from his many business holdings at any time.
“President Trump’s continued ownership interest in a global business empire, which renders him deeply enmeshed with a legion of foreign and domestic government actors, violates the Constitution and calls into question the rule of law and the integrity of the country’s political system,” the filing states.
The suit specifically cites the Embassy of Kuwait deciding to hold its National Day celebration at Trump’s International Hotel in Washington, DC. The diplomatic post had originally booked the Four Seasons hotel to host the event, but changed reservations to the President’s property reportedly under pressure from officials within Trump Organization, the suit alleges. The cost of the gala was estimated at between $40,000 and $60,000.
A lobbyist for Saudi Arabia also reported spending more than a quarter-million dollars at the same hotel between October 2016 and the end of March 2017.
Maryland and DC claim they are specifically harmed by the President’s ongoing business activities. They allege that Trump has used the presidency to draw attention to his properties, and that foreign and domestic officials have openly stated they’re more likely to stay in Trump hotels in order to curry favor with the President.
“The District and Maryland have an interest in protecting their economies and their residents,” the suit states. It notes that Trump’s local competitors are “injured by decreased business, wages, and tips resulting from economic and commercial activity diverted to the defendant and his business enterprises due to his ongoing constitutional violations.”
Even if the parties are unsuccessful in their legal endeavor, a judge simply allowing the lawsuit to advance could provoke a major revelation about President Trump, regarding his taxes.
Attorney General Frosh told The Washington Post that the case “at its core” is about citizens having the right to know about their President’s business dealings and possible breaches of the constitution.
To that end, “we’ll need to see his financial records, his taxes that he has refused to release,” Frosh said.
After the President handed day-to-day operations of Trump Organization to his sons, the company claimed it would identify foreign revenues and donate them to the US Treasury in order to avoid implicating the emoluments clause.
In May, however, the company informed the House Oversight Committee that fulfilling such a task would be “impractical.” Instead, they would rely on patrons to self-identify.
“It is not the intention nor design of this policy for our Properties to attempt to identify individual travels who have not specifically identified themselves as being a representative of a foreign government entity on foreign government business,” the company said in response to an inquiry from the oversight panel.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the committee, said he had “grave concerns” about the operations at Trump Organization.
“Complying with the United States Constitution is not an optional exercise, but a requirement for serving as our nation’s President,” Cummings wrote in a letter to the White House last month.
Although the lawsuit marks the first time a state or municipality has sued the President for emoluments violations, DC-based watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), brought a similar action in April.
The Department of Justice responded to the CREW suit in a filing last Friday, arguing that it should be dismissed.
During Monday’s White House Press Briefing, spokesman Sean Spicer said the suit was brought by two Democratic Attorneys General and an “advocacy group with partisan ties.”
“It’s not hard to conclude that partisan politics might be one of the motivations behind the scenes,” Spicer claimed.