Nearly 200 Democrats sue Donald Trump over ‘benefits’

Politicians say president violates the constitution over payments from foreign governments via Trump’s businesses.

Nearly 200 US Democratic lawmakers have filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump over foreign money flowing into his global business empire. 

Wednesday’s case is the latest in a series of similar complaints filed against the president in recent months. 

The lawmakers allege Trump accepted funds from foreign governments through his businesses without congressional consent in violation of the US constitution.

The complaint said that Trump had not sought congressional approval for any of the payments that his hundreds of businesses had received from foreign governments since he took office in January.

The White House was not immediately available for comment, but has repeatedly said that Trump’s business interests do not violate the constitution.

In January, the president said he would maintain ownership of his business empire, but would shift his business assets to a trust that would be managed by his two eldest sons while president.

Ethics advocates have argued, however, that this move did not go far enough.  

The Trump Organization has also said it will donate profits from customers representing foreign governments to the US treasury department, but will not require such customers to identify themselves.

At least 30 US senators and 166 representatives are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, representing the largest number of legislators to ever sue a US president, according to two lawmakers who are among the plaintiffs.

The constitution’s “foreign emoluments” clause bars US officeholders from accepting payments and various other gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval.

“The president’s failure to tell us about these emoluments, to disclose the payments and benefits that he is receiving, mean that we cannot do our job. We cannot consent to what we don’t know,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, one of the lawmakers bringing the lawsuit, said in a conference call on Tuesday.

Representative John Conyers, another plaintiff, added that Trump “has conflicts of interest in at least 25 countries, and it appears he’s using his presidency to maximise his profits”.

The justice department declined to comment.

Similar Lawsuits

Other lawsuits of the same nature have been filed in recent months by parties including a nonprofit ethics group and a restaurant trade group. 

They allege that Trump’s acceptance of payments from foreign and US governments through his hospitality empire puts other hotel and restaurant owners at an unfair disadvantage and provides governments an incentive to give Trump-owned businesses special treatment.

In a motion to dismiss one such lawsuit on Friday, the justice department argued that the plaintiffs had not shown any specific harm to their businesses, and that Trump was only banned from receiving foreign government gifts if they arose from his service as president.

On Monday, the attorney generals of the state of Maryland and Washington, DC filed a similar lawsuit against the president.

“This case is about the right of hundreds of millions of Americans to honest government,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit.

Responding to questions about Monday’s lawsuit, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said “partisan politics” were to blame.

Spicer said the White House will fight to have the lawsuit dismissed.

Anti-corruption advocates have said Trump’s holdings raise several ethical questions.

“It throws into question whether our government is making policy decisions for the right reasons,” Noah Bookbinder of DC-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW), told Al Jazeera.

CREW filed a lawsuit in January over “emoluments”. 

“He’s taken every opportunity to go to some of his establishments on weekends, to meet with foreign leaders there, talk about how great his businesses are and that raises a lot of problems,” Bookbinder said. 

Lawmakers rarely sue the president, so there are few federal court decisions the legislators can cite to prove their legal standing to bring Wednesday’s case, Leah Litman, an assistant professor specialising in constitutional law at the University of California, Irvine, told Reuters news agency. 

“But the constitutional provision they’re suing to enforce gives them a role in how it’s carried out, and that gives them a powerful standing argument,” Litman said.