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Members of Congress Asking Court to Hold President Trump Accountable to Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause Now Number More Than 200 

August 16, 2017

Washington, DC – Constitutional Accountability Center has filed an amended Complaint against President Donald J. Trump in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking relief from his violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause. Led by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT) and U.S. Representative John Conyers, Jr. (MI), the amended Complaint adds five additional Members to the original group of plaintiffs, bringing the total number of Members of the United States Congress who have joined this effort to 201. These Members of Congress are simply asking a federal court to direct Trump to do what the Constitution commands: seek “the Consent of the Congress” before accepting any benefits from foreign governments. 

“The Constitution’s language is simple and direct in setting out the rule for government officials from the President on down who want to accept foreign state benefits: go to Congress first and obtain the consent of its Members,” said CAC Chief Counsel Brianne Gorod. “President Trump has refused to do this, thumbing his nose at our founding charter and one of its critical anti-corruption provisions. That is why now more than 200 Members of Congress have asked the court to order President Trump to do his duty and disclose his foreign government benefits to Congress, so that Members can vote on whether he may accept them.”

The amended Complaint cites new scholarship by Georgetown University Law Professor John Mikhail that devastates spurious claims – made by President Trump and his defenders – that the Founders understood the word “emolument” as a narrow term limited only to profits arising from one’s employment and not covering benefits gained through business transactions. Buttressing his earlier work cited in the original complaint, Mikhail’s new research shows comprehensively that such a narrow definition of “emolument” is “inaccurate, unrepresentative, and misleading,” and that, in fact, “every English dictionary definition of ‘emolument’ from 1604 to 1806” defines the term broadly as “profit,” “advantage,” “gain,” or “benefit.” President Trump’s benefits from foreign governments clearly fall under the plain terms of the Constitution.

Moreover, the amended Complaint points to recent reports of President Trump’s acceptance of foreign benefits in the form of lucrative trademarks granted by the government of China – including China’s approval of Trump applications it had previously rejected. Furthermore, additional news reports show that the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. made nearly $2 million in profits during the first four months of 2017, even though President Trump’s company had earlier projected it would lose more than $2 million during that period – this despite an occupancy rate well below standard for the industry. These profits, at probably “the most expensive hotel in the city,” are being driven by “the extraordinary prices guests have been willing to pay for rooms,” one report notes, up to “three times the average rate.” Because President Trump has not gone to Congress and disclosed his foreign state benefits as the Constitution requires, it is unknown how much of those profits derive from foreign government payments. But as one Middle Eastern diplomat put it last year: “Believe me, all the delegations will go there.”

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Resources:

Amended Complaint, Blumenthal, Conyers, et al., vs. Trump: https://www.theusconstitution.org/sites/default/files/briefs/Blumenthal_v_Trump_DDC_First_Amended_Complaint.pdf

Trump and the Foreign Emoluments Clause, CAC Resource page: https://www.theusconstitution.org/trump-and-foreign-emoluments-clause 

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Constitutional Accountability Center (www.theusconstitution.org) is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution's text and history.

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