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Nearly 200 Congressional Democrats announce lawsuit against Trump over foreign payments

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

By Karma Allen and Tom Kutsch

Nearly 200 Democratic lawmakers have joined together to bring a lawsuit against President Donald Trump, alleging he breached a clause of the Constitution that forbids foreign payments and gifts.

The Congressional lawsuit alleges that Trump through his business interests has been in violation of the so-called emoluments clause of the Constitution -- which prohibits a president from accepting foreign gifts or payments without consent from Congress -- since he took office in January.

The 196 members of Congress who have thus far joined the complaint -- 30 from the Senate and 166 members of the House of Representatives -- say in the suit that they sought to "obtain relief from the president's continuing violation of the foreign emoluments clause," which they said was created, in part, to prevent foreign influence. A copy of the suit was published Tuesday night by the Constitutional Accountability Center, a Washington, D.C.-based legal organization which is filing on behalf of the Congressional plaintiffs.

The suit is set to be filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday.

"Through this measure, the nation's founders invested members of Congress with an important role in preventing the corruption and foreign influence that the founders sought to avoid," the suit reads, referring to the emoluments clause. "President Donald J. Trump has a financial interest in vast business holdings around the world that engage in dealings with foreign governments and receive benefits from those governments."

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who helped to organize the suit along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), said -- according to the Associated Press -- that they had gathered the "greatest number of congressional plaintiffs on any lawsuit against a president."

While the 196 signers are so far all Democrats, Blumenthal and Conyers indicated they will invite their Republican colleagues to join in on the suit later on Wednesday.

The lawsuit asks that Congress first obtain "consent" before "accepting any benefits from foreign states."

Trump decided to maintain ownership of his company -- the Trump Organization -- after becoming president but announced in January that he would hand it over to his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump through a financial trust, in an effort to address concerns of potential conflicts of interest.

The lawsuit, the third of its kind to target emoluments since Trump became president, comes just a few days after the Democratic attorneys general of Washington, D.C., and Maryland filed a similar suit, which also claimed that Trump had been in violation of the Constitution since he took office because his business accepted payments from foreign governments.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to that suit at a press briefing on Monday afternoon, reiterating the administration's position that Trump is not in violation of the emoluments clause and suggested that the lawsuit was motivated by politics.

"It's not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations behind the suit," Spicer told reporters.

A separate suit -- filed earlier this year by government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United Inc. and two individuals -- alleged that Trump has been in violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause as well.

The Justice Department last week sought to have that suit dismissed, arguing that none of the plaintiffs suffered an injury that would give them standing to sue, according to papers filed in Manhattan federal court.