Federal Courts

Trump sued by DC, Maryland over anti-corruption rules

Barnini Chakraborty

The attorneys general for Washington, D.C., and Maryland filed a lawsuit Monday against President Trump alleging he violated the Constitution by accepting millions of dollars in payments and benefits from foreign governments since being sworn in as president in January.

The lawsuit adds another legal headache for the Trump administration, which also is dealing with the controversy over Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign and court challenges to the president's travel ban. 

Monday’s lawsuit, brought by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and his D.C. counterpart, Karl Racine, claims Trump violated two anti-corruption provisions in the Constitution that prohibit the president from pulling in profits from businesses he owns, controls or prospers from. 

Asked about the suit at Monday's briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer rejected the claims and described the challenge as "partisan politics" at work. 

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Lindsay Jancek also pushed back on the allegations. “This lawsuit brought against our president is absurd," she said in a written statement. "...The actions of the attorneys general represent the kind of partisan grandstanding voters across the country have come to despise."

But the attorneys general say Trump's actions have gone unchecked for too long. 

“Foreign countries have already conducted business with the president’s companies and he is receiving money and other benefits from these foreign countries,” Racine said.

According to the suit, Trump has received payments or benefits from governments including China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Indonesia which have paid for rooms and events at Trump hotels or leased space in Trump buildings or, as in the case with China, have been granted valuable trademarks.

“President Trump’s continued ownership interest in a global business empire, which renders him deeply enmeshed with a legion of foreign and domestic government actors violates the Constitution and calls into question the rule of law and the integrity of the country’s political system,” the 48-page complaint claimed.

Frosh and Racine argue that Trump’s violations are on a scale never seen and that it negatively affects businesses in both the District and Maryland.

For example, the Embassy of Kuwait switched its event from the Four Seasons hotel to the Trump International Hotel in D.C. Last month, the government of Turkey held a state-sponsored event at Trump’s hotel. And back in April, Georgia’s ambassador stayed at the hotel and tweeted about his experience.

“Great #hotel and so far the best service I’ve seen in the United States! Keep it up!” Ambassador Kaha Imnadze tweeted, accompanied by a picture from inside the Trump International Hotel in downtown D.C.

“This type of constitutional violation opens the door to corruption and undermines trust in our democracy,” the attorneys general said in a statement.

Trump is also facing a similar -- but separate -- lawsuit filed in January by the nonprofit ethics group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW. In that case, a restaurant group and a hotel events booker claimed that Trump violated the “emoluments” clause, which bans him from accepting gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval.

Trump still has a stake in his multi-billion dollar business empire despite handing over day-to-day duties to his sons.

“It’s already clear that nothing short of judicial force will end Trump’s flagrant disregard of the core barrier the Constitution’s Framers erected against presidential decisions driven by personal greed or by loyalty purchased from the President by the patronage of foreign powers,” Laurence Tribe, one of several CREW attorneys on the case, said.

Trump’s team of lawyers argued Friday that if the president is in the wrong, then every president dating back to George Washington would be guilty of the same thing.

“Neither the text nor the history of the clauses shows that they were intended to reach benefits arising from a president’s private business pursuits having nothing to do with his office or personal service to a foreign power," the government said in the filing. “Were plaintiffs’ interpretation correct, presidents from the very beginning of the Republic, including George Washington, would have received prohibited ‘emoluments.’”

Trump announced in January that he’d turn over his business dealings to his sons Eric and Donald Jr. He also said he wouldn’t make any new business deals outside the U.S. while president.

CREW’s original complaint highlighted payments from diplomats and foreign governments to Trump’s hotels and golf courses. CREW updated its complaint to include China granting and fast-tracking Trump trademarks as well as the decision to allow Trump to lease the site of his D.C. hotel despite claims he’s in violation of the lease, according to Bloomberg Politics.

CREW also argues that Trump’s hotel has marketed to diplomats coming to the nation’s capital and has also accepted money from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.