Rule of Law

Congressional Emoluments Lawsuit Against Trump Moves Forward in D.C.

Less than a week after the White House announced and then rescinded its awarding of next year’s Group of Seven (G7) summit of world leaders to President Donald Trump’s Miami-area resort, a congressional lawsuit arguing for the right to review any foreign payments, benefits, or gifts to Trump is moving forward in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Tuesday, a group of more than 200 members of Congress — led by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal — filed a brief with the Court of Appeals, citing the decision to award the summit to one of Trump’s businesses as evidence of the president flouting the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits the president and other members of the government from receiving any gifts, benefits, or payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress.

The 105-page brief states that “by maintaining ownership of his companies while allowing them to conduct business with foreign governments, the president is accepting payments and other financial benefits from foreign states without the consent of Congress” — a move, the brief says violates the Constitution’s safeguard against foreign influence of “officers of the United States.”

The brief further calls the president “brazen” and criticizes his response to the public outcry and scrutiny of the initial decision to award the G7 summit to his Doral, Florida resort.

Trump lashed out Monday at a cabinet meeting where he took questions from reporters, saying, “You people with this phony emoluments clause.”

Blumenthal said in a statement Tuesday evening that despite Trump’s decision to forgo holding the G7 summit at his Doral resort, the president’s behavior shows a disregard for the law.

“The President may have decided, for now, not to go ahead with his plan to hold the G7 summit at his Doral resort, but the fact that he even thought about it underscores once again that he has zero regard for the foreign emoluments clause,” Blumenthal said. “That’s why our lawsuit to hold the President accountable to the Constitution is so important. As this brief notes, the President’s attempt to award the G7 summit to his Doral resort shows how increasingly brazen he’s becoming.”

U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, echoed those sentiments and said that by “exploiting his office to enrich himself and his family,” Trump has continued to undermine U.S. security.

“The is nothing ‘phony’ about the emoluments clause of the Constitution and the president knows this,” said Nadler. “No one is above the law. We will continue to hold Trump accountable for this abuse of power.”

Lawsuit ongoing since 2017

Tuesday’s brief is the latest in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in June 2017 on behalf of what was then-196 members of Congress by attorneys with the Constitutional Accountability Center. Nearly a year later, attorneys for the president sought to have the lawsuit dismissed on grounds that Congress was not permitted to sue the president in court — an argument that a federal judge rejected in September 2018, ruling that lawmakers had legal standing to sue because the emoluments clause “requires the President to ask Congress before accepting a prohibited emolument.”

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. ruled in Congress’ favor again in June of this year after Trump and his lawyers sought to delay or block Democrats in Congress from discovery efforts, including issuing subpoenas and conducting interviews in order to access his private business information.

In response, Trump’s attorneys appealed the decision and sought intervention from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is now set to hear the case Dec. 9.

Two other emoluments cases pending

Blumenthal’s lawsuit is just one of three emoluments-related lawsuits currently proceeding against the president.

A second lawsuit, brought by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, will be re-heard by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia in mid-December after three judges dismissed the case in July. That lawsuit revolves around the vast amount of foreign leaders who have patronized the Trump International Hotel in D.C. since he was elected in 2016. Racine and Frosh argue that foreign leaders are spending money at Trump’s business, including the hotel, in order to influence the president’s foreign policy decisions, which they hold to be a violation of the emoluments clause.

A third lawsuit, filed in New York by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), is working its way through the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals after a panel of federal judges ruled 2-1 in September that a district court judge in 2017 erred when he dismissed their lawsuit, which claimed that Trump’s failure to divest himself from his businesses also violated the emoluments clause.

All three lawsuits reflect ongoing scrutiny of the Trump Organization’s business dealings in recent years, including work with foreign leaders and in foreign countries. While Trump announced his resignation from his business in January 2017, he retained his financial stake in the business. His personal tax returns, as well as financial statements for the Trump Organization, have remained private — thus precluding members of the public and Congress from knowing whether and to what extent Trump may have violated the emoluments clause.