Democrats to file Emoluments suit

By Dan Freedman

Capitol Hill Democrats are filing a lawsuit early Wednesday arguing that President Trump has run afoul of the Constitution by deriving business income from foreign governments while serving as president.

“President Trump has repeatedly and flagrantly violated this clause,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal on a conference call late Tuesday.

He was referring to the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bars government officials from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office or Title” bestowed by a foreign power.

Trump “has thumbed his nose at its plain text, and in doing so thumbed his nose at the American people,” said Blumenthal, a former U.S. attorney in Connecticut and state attorney general.

Trump critics have talked about a possible conflict of interest involving Emoluments Clause virtually since the day he won the 2016 election.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reportedly is looking into legal action against Trump based on the Emoluments Clause. And on Monday, the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington D.C. filed suit in federal court in Maryland along similar lines.

Together with Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and lawyers from the Washington-based Constitutional Accountability Center, Blumenthal on Tuesday argued his case is different because the Emoluments Clause stipulates officials cannot accept foreign government gifts or payments “without the consent of the Congress.”

“Consent demands disclosure,” said Blumenthal, noting Trump’s refusal to turn over his tax returns, as well as his continued involvement with the Trump Organization’s vast holdings in the U.S. and more than 20 nations — even though his two sons run the business day-to-day.

“We cannot consent to what we don’t know,” Blumenthal said.

About 190 Democrats, including 30 senators, are behind the lawsuit, Blumenthal said. No Republicans in Congress have joined, he said, adding that he hoped some might ultimately sign up.

The 38-page complaint to be filed Wednesday recounts the Founding Fathers’ concern that the fledgling United States could be corrupted by wealthier long-established foreign powers. It quotes George Mason as saying at the Constitutional Convention: “If we do not provide against corruption, our government will soon be at an end.”

It goes into examples of how previous presidents dealt with the clause. Abraham Lincoln wrote to the King of Siam in 1862 that he couldn’t accept gifts of decorative elephant tusks and an ornate sword before leaving them to Congress, which directed the items be turned over to the Department of the Interior.

President John F. Kennedy declined an offer of honorary citizenship from Ireland because of the Emoluments Clause.

Blumenthal also mentioned the case of the government of Bulgaria gifting a puppy named “Balkan” to George W. Bush in 2006. The president could not turn it over to a government agency, so he paid the government the value of the gift (about $430) and re-gifted it to friends in Maryland.

Trump’s receipt of gifts come more in the form of approval of valuable trademarks, which according to news reports were hurried along by China after Trump won the election.

Also, Trump’s newly opened hotel just blocks away from the White House in Washington has become a magnet for foreign powers — especially from the Middle East — seeking to curry favor, according to news reports cited in the lawsuit.

Among them is a Wall Street Journal report last week that a lobbying firm working for Saudi Arabia spent $270,000 at the hotel on rooms, parking and catering — all reimbursed by the Saudi government.

The Washington Post quoted an unidentified Asian diplomat as saying: “Why wouldn’t I stay at (Trump’s) hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say ‘I am staying at your competitor?’ ”

The White House has routinely dismissed claims of violation of the Emoluments Clause.

It is “not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations,” of the Maryland-D.C. lawsuit, White House Spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday.