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Nearly Every Democrat In Congress Just Sued Trump
The federal lawsuit accuses the president of violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
By Tina Nguyen
While multiple investigations into the Trump campaign slowly wind their way through Congress and the F.B.I., a process that could take years to lead to any charges, Democratic lawmakers aren’t waiting to attack the president over a constitutional violation they say there is already evidence he has committed. On Wednesday, nearly 200 Democrats in Congress filed a federal lawsuit against Donald Trump for violating the Emoluments Clause, a once-obscure portion of the U.S. Constitution that restricts presidents from accepting gifts from foreign leaders without the consent of Congress. According to the suit, which lists 17 pages of plaintiffs from both the House and Senate, the president has violated that clause by continuing to profit from business deals involving foreign governments without congressional approval.
“Defendant, 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,” the suit states. “By virtue of that financial interest, Defendant has accepted, or necessarily will accept, ‘Emolument[s]’ from ‘foreign State[s]’ while holding the office of President of the United States.” The group of Democrats—which The New York Times notes may represent the most members of Congress ever to sue a sitting president—is seeking a declaratory judgment from the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., and injunctive relief ordering Trump to stop profiting from foreign governments unless allowed by Congress. No Republicans have joined the suit.
Democrats seem to believe they have sufficient evidence to press their case, whether or not it is something of a publicity stunt. Last month, the Trump Organization admitted that it had not been tracking the foreign money pouring into its hotels and other real-estate properties, money that the president had previously vowed to donate to the U.S. Treasury, and which critics say could be used to curry favor with the Trump administration. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who is leading the effort in the Senate, told reporters on a conference call that he had done extensive legal research into the issue and was convinced that Trump—who has stepped away from the Trump Organization but remains the sole beneficiary of a trust managed by his two eldest sons—has “repeatedly and flagrantly violated” the Emoluments Clause.
Still, they may struggle to convince the court that they have standing to sue. As University of Iowa law professor Andy Grewal told The Washington Post, “this is individual legislators who don’t have any individual injuries”—a potential obstacle to the case proceeding. Blumenthal disagrees: “We have standing that no one else has” because “the consent of Congress is absolutely essential,” he said on the conference call. Blumenthal added that Trump “must either sell his vast holdings . . . or he must tell us and disclose now,” and that Democrats are seeking both his tax returns and a full accounting of his business records.
The Democratic effort comes just one day after the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., filed their own suit against the president. Several outside interest groups and private citizens, including one local restaurant, have already filed similar suits, alleging that their businesses have been harmed by unfair competition with the president. While the White House did not respond to a request for comment on the latest lawsuit, Press Secretary Sean Spicer dismissed Tuesday’s suit from Maryland and D.C. as “partisan politics.” The Trump administration has previously argued that the Emoluments Clause does not apply to “fair value” commercial transactions.
The Justice Department’s motion to dismiss Tuesday’s suit did not address the thorny issue of foreign officials using their patronage as a way to curry favor—an issue that has never been fully explored by the courts—though the phenomenon of foreign dignitaries staying at Trump properties has been widely observed.