Maryland, DC Sue Trump For ‘Unprecedented Constitutional’ Offenses

Lawsuit alleges the president allegedly accepted foreign gifts and that his businesses are hurting taxpayer-funded convention centers

President Trump arrives in New Jersey to spend another weekend at his golf club. — REUTERS
Jun 12, 2017 at 11:40 AM ET

The emoluments clause in the Constitution is rearing its Founding Fathers-approved head yet again, with attorneys general for both Maryland and Washington, D.C., set to sue President Donald Trump on Monday for allegedly accepting foreign gifts and payments.

The Washington Post, which received a copy of the lawsuit from D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, reports that Trump will be sued for “unprecedented constitutional violations” after he refused to fully divest himself from his private businesses before taking public office. The lawsuit is the first time a government entity has sued Trump over his business interests during his presidency. Trump promised in January that he would resign from his companies and leave them to be run by his adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric. But by still owning a stake in those businesses, and profiting from them, many ethics experts have said that the president’s plan did not go far enough.

The new lawsuit is expected to accuse Trump’s hotel of taking business away from taxpayer-owned or subsidized convention centers in D.C. and Maryland. It also accuses Trump of favoring states that voted for him over the ones that didn’t. The lawsuit comes after last week’s announcement that the first hotels to open under the Trump Organization’s new budget hotel chain will be in Mississippi through a partnership with a company whose co-owner donated to the president’s campaign, the New York Times reported. (While Mississippi went overwhelmingly for Trump in the election, the counties the first hotels will be in actually went to Clinton.)

The suit says that Maryland and D.C. are now being forced to either give the Trump Organization special treatment or refuse and watch other states that do give it special treatment profit. It also accuses Trump of getting preferential treatment from the General Services Administration, which ruled last March that the organization’s D.C. hotel was not in violation of the agreement that said no one holding an elected office could be on the lease.

Previous presidents liquidated their assets and placed them in blind trusts for the duration of their terms to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest. Trump refused to do so, saying conflict-of-interest laws did not apply to him. But there are emoluments clauses in the Constitution that prohibit anyone who holds public office from accepting any money, gifts, or titles for foreign powers or from states. Trump’s D.C. hotel has been the subject of many complaints in this regard, as foreign officials have increasingly used it for lodging and events since Trump was elected president, possibly in hope of currying favor with him. The Embassy of Kuwait, for example, switched up its annual National Day celebration in February from the Four Seasons to the Trump hotel a month after Trump’s election. He promised that any profits from foreign governments would be donated to to the U.S. Treasury, but the Trump Organization has been vague about how and if it intends to follow through.

While it’s the first time a government entity has sued Trump over his business interests during the early part of his presidency, the president has faced other litigation while in office. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW), a left-leaning organization, sued Trump for violating the emoluments clause just a few days after he was sworn in. The Justice Department argued in a recent filing that the suit should be dismissed because CREW had no standing to sue in the first place. Last March, a D.C. restaurant sued Trump, accusing his hotel of having an unfair advantage.

The Republican National Committee, however, described the lawsuit as “absurd.”

“From day one, President Trump has been committed to complete transparency and compliance with the law,” RNC Spokesperson Lindsay Jancek said in a statement to Vocativ. “The actions of the attorneys general represent the kind of partisan grandstanding voters across the country have come to despise. The American people elected President Trump to lead this country, and it is time Democrats end their efforts to delegitimize his presidency.”