The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a liberal watchdog group, is filing a lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of allowing his businesses to accept payments from foreign governments, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
President Trump wouldn't end his business deals with foreign governments, so we're suing him to stop them https://t.co/aUccIYSSRk— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) January 22, 2017
Apparently the Constitution's emoluments clause forbids payments to Trump's businesses. The lawsuit seeks a court order forbidding Trump from accepting such payments.
"President Trump has made his slogan ‘America First,’” CREW's Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “So you would think he would want to strictly follow the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, since it was written to ensure our government officials are thinking of Americans first, and not foreign governments.”
"He just swore on the Bible to 'preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,’" said the statement by CREW.
But by continuing to accept payments from foreign governments, he has already failed, the statement added: "We do not yet know just to what extent this violation goes — because he is the first person elected to the presidency in decades to fail to clear the ethical bar of Richard Nixon and release his tax returns, much of his foreign business has remained secret."
"When Trump the president sits down to negotiate trade deals with these countries, the American people will have no way of knowing whether he will also be thinking about the profits of Trump the businessman," it continued.
“The framers of the Constitution were students of history,” said Deepak Gupta, one of the lawyers behind the suit. “And they understood that one way a republic could fail is if foreign powers could corrupt our elected leaders.”
The suit does not aim to seek any monetary damages, but will rather ask a federal court in New York to order Trump to stop taking payments from foreign government entities for "hotels and golf courses; loans for his office buildings from certain banks controlled by foreign governments; and leases with tenants like the Abu Dhabi tourism office, a government enterprise."
"We do not comment on our clients or the work we do for them," responded Morgan Lewis & Bockius, the firm representing the president.
According to Trump's son, Eric Trump, an executive vice president of the Trump Organization, the company had taken more steps than required by law to avoid any possible legal exposure, such as agreeing to donate any profits collected at Trump-owned hotels that come from foreign government guests to the U.S. Treasury.
"This is purely harassment for political gain," he said.
The Title of Nobility Clause (also known as the Emoluments Clause) is a provision in Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution that prohibits the federal government from granting titles of nobility and restricts members of the government from receiving gifts, emoluments, offices or titles from foreign states without the consent of the United States Congress.
Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, (the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007 as well as the current vice chairman on board of directors of CREW) says, "CREW's whole purpose is about combating corruption in the federal government. So up until this point, the two major causes of corruption in the government were the revolving door in Washington and campaign finance. The vast majority of resources were spent on that. It was a two-front war and now this opens up a third front."
Trump has said he would resign from all positions overseeing hotels, golf courses and hundreds of other businesses to help ensure that he will not consciously take actions as president that would benefit him personally.
However, he made it clear that unlike other government officials, he is not required to steer clear of conflicts of interest.
"I could actually run my business and run government at the same time,” he said. “I don’t like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to."
"Mr. Trump's ill-advised course will precipitate scandal and corruption," responded Norm Eisen, a former White House ethics adviser under President Barack Obama.
Trump recently announced he is creating a trust in which his two sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, along with one of his Trump Organization executives, who will run his global business interests. The plan falls short, however, of demands that he sells all his holdings and places his wealth in a blind trust in which he would have no idea how his money is invested.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Joshua Roberts