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Congressional Democrats Sue Trump Over Business With Foreign Officials

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The lawmakers allege the president, by retaining financial interest in his businesses, is violating the Constitution’s prohibition on receiving benefits from foreign states

By Brent Kendall

Nearly 200 congressional Democrats on Wednesday sued President Donald Trump, alleging he is violating the Constitution because his businesses are accepting payments and benefits from foreign governments.

The lawsuit, filed in a Washington, D.C., federal court, is the latest to focus on the president’s decision not to divest in his business holdings. Legal challengers say Mr. Trump’s businesses are benefiting from his presidency, and that Mr. Trump, by retaining his financial interest in those businesses, is benefiting, too.

The president’s conduct “deprives the American people of assurance that their highest elected official is pursuing their best interests with undivided loyalty,” the lawsuit says. It argues Mr. Trump is violating a constitutional provision that prohibits U.S. officials from receiving “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” without Congress’ consent.

Rather than divest his business assets, Mr. Trump decided to place them into a trust. His two adult sons are running the Trump Organization in his absence.

A White House spokeswoman said the president’s business interests don’t violate the Constitution’s emoluments provisions.

“The White House will review the complaint, but we expect that DOJ will move to dismiss this case in the ordinary course,” the spokeswoman said. “This is another example of the Democrats playing political games instead of working for the American people they were elected to serve.”

A similar lawsuit, brought in January by an ethics watchdog organization, is proceeding in New York, and attorneys general representing Maryland and the District of Columbia filed their own lawsuit this week making similar allegations.  

Plaintiffs in all the lawsuits could face considerable procedural hurdles, and it is possible judges will be unwilling to weigh in on Mr. Trump’s business arrangements.

Challengers will have to show that they are suffering harm from Mr. Trump’s alleged conduct to establish their right to sue over it. Judges also are likely to consider whether the cases raise political questions, not legal ones, meaning they should be resolved by branches of government other than the courts.

The Justice Department, representing Mr. Trump, last week asked a judge to dismiss the New York lawsuit, saying the president is allowed to maintain ownership interests in private commercial businesses. Constitutional prohibitions only apply to gifts and compensation that are based on the president’s official position, the department said.

The congressional Democrats are asking a judge to issue an injunction requiring the president to obtain congressional permission before accepting benefits from foreign states.

The lawmakers, among other things, voiced concern about foreign diplomats staying at Mr. Trump’s new downtown Washington hotel to curry favor with the president, and they said entities owned by foreign states have recently become tenants of Trump Tower in New York. They also said Mr. Trump has an ownership interest in ventures around the world, and that foreign governments could bestow regulatory benefits on them because Mr. Trump is president.

Mr. Trump, through his lawyers, has pledged to donate to the U.S. Treasury all profits from foreign-government payments made to his hotels and similar businesses, though the policy applies only to customers who identify themselves as foreign officials.