Sounds like someone’s got a case of the Mondays. President Donald Trump’s first business day in his new office included being sued by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Their complaint, filed in federal court, accuses Trump of violating the “Emoluments Clause” of the U.S. Constitution.
According to the suit, which was filed with New York’s Southern District federal court in Manhattan on Monday, Trump is “submerged in conflicts of interest,” which “can subtly sway even the most virtuous leaders, and entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious threat to the Republic,” the lawsuit contends.
Such conflicts, the suit adds, are banned under the “emoluments” clause, a provision in the Constitution stating “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
CREW contends that any payments from foreign governments to the president’s hotels, leases at Trump Tower in New York, rights to rebroadcast or create different versions of Trump’s reality TV show, and even rounds at his golf courses are all illegal.
On January 11, then-President-elect Trump said he would remain the owner of his business throughout the presidency, handing control over his global empire to his oldest sons, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump. At the time, tax adviser and partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius Sheri Dillon said, “Trump can’t unknow he owns Trump Tower,” adding that he “should not be expected to destroy the company he built.”
Asked about Trump’s hotels being frequented by foreign diplomats and the potential conflict of interest in similar transactions between the president’s business and foreign government officials, Dillon said “all profits from foreign government payments” would be donated to the U.S. Treasury. This comment didn’t impress CREW.
Alleging Trump’s business accepts gifts from foreign governments without the approval of Congress, the group listed countries known for doing business or planning on doing business with Trump’s companies in its complaint. They include Turkey, the United Kingdom, India, and China. And for at least the past three decades, the lawsuit adds, his company has also attempted to do business with Russia.
According to the suit, the Embassy of Kuwait made booking-related payments at one of Trump’s hotels in Washington. Officials are staying at the hotel next month. The funds, the suit alleges, are expected to “go directly to defendant while he is president.”
The suit’s aim is to ask a federal judge to demand Trump stop accepting money from foreign officials. But to Trump’s son Eric, who serves as an executive vice president for the Trump Organization, this suit “is purely harassment for political gain,” and not an honest effort to keep government transparent. After all, according to Eric, the company already took “more steps than required by law” to ensure there isn’t any conflict of interest between the president and the company.
In order for the lawsuit to advance, CREW must convince a federal judge they have standing, meaning they have been injured in some way by Trump’s violation of the Constitution.
CREW claims to be “significantly injured” by having to file this lawsuit in the first place, as its resources are limited. Attorneys working on behalf of CREW include Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California at Irvine’s law school, Harvard University’s Laurence Tribe, Richard Painter, a former president George W. Bush adviser, and Norman Eisen, who advised president Barack Obama.
When asked to comment on the lawsuit, a spokeswoman for Morgan Lewis, Trump’s attorneys, said they “do not comment on our clients or the work we do for them.”
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