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Hill Democrats sue Trump over foreign business ties

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The case is one of at least four legal challenges on emoluments.

By Josh Gerstein and Heather Caygle

President Donald Trump is facing yet another lawsuit over the profits his far-flung business empire brings in from dealings with foreign governments.

The latest legal salvo came from nearly 200 Democratic members of the House and Senate, who joined in a suit filed early Wednesday in federal court in Washington.

It's at least the fourth pending lawsuit alleging that Trump is violating the foreign emoluments clause in the Constitution, a provision that prohibits federal officeholders from accepting financial benefits or other things of value from foreign governments without the permission of Congress.

Plans for the new suit were first reported by POLITICO last week. The lead plaintiffs in the case are Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut along with Rep, John Conyers of Michigan, long the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

The 54-page complaint targets a wide array of Trump's business ventures, from Trump Tower spaces rented to foreign governments, to "The Apprentice" reruns aired by state-owned foreign broadcasters, to trademarks the Chinese government has granted Trump to market his brand in China for construction services, catering and clothing.

"Because Defendant is not coming to Congress and identifying the emoluments he wishes to accept, the American people will have no way of knowing whether his actions as President reflect only his beliefs about what is best for the country, or whether they are partly motivated by personal financial considerations," the suit says.

The new suit was filed just two days after the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland filed a joint suit in federal court in Greenbelt, Maryland, making similar arguments on behalf of the people of those jurisdictions. In addition, a pair of lawsuit were filed in New York last year challenging the legality of Trump's business dealings with foreign entities.

The Justice Department moved to toss out one of the New York cases last week, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring such a suit and that routine business transactions with foreign governments are not covered by the foreign emoluments language in the Constitution.

At a news conference early this year, a private lawyer for Trump publicly made a similar argument. However, Trump also pledged to set up a process to donate to the U.S. Treasury profits his hotels and other businesses earn from foreign governments.

The Trump Organization, which oversees Trump's business holdings, has released a flyer indicating that it plans to flag some business with foreign governments and track the profits from that activity. However, the Trump businesses do not plan to try to figure out whether foreign individuals who do business at Trump properties are actually representatives of foreign governments, the flyer said.

The lawmakers are represented in the new suit by a liberal legal nonprofit, the Constitutional Accountability Center.