Nearly 200 Democrats in Congress have filed the second lawsuit this week against President Trump over his ongoing financial interests in his business empire.
The lawsuit, filed early Wednesday morning in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, claims that Trump violated the US Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, which bars officials from accepting gifts and other “emoluments” — generally defined as payments and other financial benefits — from foreign governments without approval from Congress.
Examples of foreign “emoluments” that Democrats pointed to included the Chinese government granting approval for Trump company trademarks; news reports of foreign diplomats staying at Trump’s hotel in Washington, DC; foreign governments that lease or own space at Trump properties; and any potential benefits that Trump businesses may get from foreign regulators as they pursue new deals overseas.
Trump said that he would give up all control of his business empire when he became president, but he did not divest his financial interests in his companies. The lawsuit says that by not asking Congress for approval to accept those financial benefits, Trump is circumventing a full accounting of his ties to foreign governments and how they might intersect with US policy.
“Although Defendant Donald J. Trump has accepted the privilege of occupying the
highest office in the land, he is not obeying the same rules as the federal officers and employees described above or following the example of compliance set by former presidents,” the lawsuit alleges.
The members are being represented by lawyers from the Constitutional Accountability Center, a Washington-based liberal public interest law firm.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of another emoluments clause case against Trump filed on Monday in federal court in Maryland by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. That case raises claims under both the foreign and domestic emoluments clause.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to news of the Democratic attorneys general’s lawsuit on Monday by saying, “It’s not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations.”
Trump is now facing emoluments clause claims on three fronts. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, known as CREW, filed the first such lawsuit in January in federal court in New York. The US Department of Justice filed papers last week asking a judge to dismiss that case, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue and contesting their interpretation of how the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses apply to the president’s private commercial interests.
The latest lawsuit was filed by 30 senators and 166 representatives, all Democrats.