Jan 23, 2017
It is his first Monday in office and U.S. President Donald Trump is being sued.
A team of prominent constitutional and ethics scholars filed the legal action with the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York early Monday, charging the billionaire real estate mogul with violating the constitutional clause that disallows officials from accepting benefits or gifts from foreign governments.
"We did not want to get to this point. It was our hope that President Trump would take the necessary steps to avoid violating the Constitution before he took office," said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which launched the suit. "He did not. His constitutional violations are immediate and serious, so we were forced to take legal action."
Trump's refusal to divest from his business has left him in a position where he is receiving "cash and favors from foreign governments, through guests and events at his hotels, leases in his buildings, and valuable real estate deals abroad," CREW explains.
As Politico's Josh Gerstein observes, "by filing in Manhattan, the suit geographically targets the Trump buildings in that New York borough. The complaint zeroes in on Trump Tower leases held by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a state-run bank, and the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, which is part of the government of the United Arab Emirates."
Further, NBCnotes that the suit is also taking issue with foreign bookings at Trump's Washington, D.C. hotel and "[p]ayments from foreign-government-owned broadcasters related to "The Apprentice" and other transactions and leases at a broad array of other establishments owned or licensed by Trump."
As CREW notes, "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."
What's more, it appears that the new president has not even followed through on his promise to transfer control of his business empire to his grown sons. According to a new investigation by ProPublica, as of Friday, the paperwork to relinquish the Trump Organization had not even been filed.
Trump's legal team has also said that he would "voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotels to the United States Treasury," but the lawsuit points out that "if there are foreign government profits at stake, the president can't legally accept them in the first place," NBC further noted.
"President Trump has made his slogan 'America First,'" said Bookbinder, referencing Trump's oft-repeated campaign slogan and inaugural speech. "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."
As the Emoluments Clause states: "no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust ... 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 is being represented in the suit by the organization's board chair and vice-chair Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, who also served as the top ethics lawyers for the last two presidents, as well as constitutional law scholars Erwin Chemerinsky, Laurence H. Tribe, and Zephyr Teachout, and Deepak Gupta of Gupta Wessler PLLC.
After his inauguration on Friday, CREW also filed a complaint with the General Services Administration (GSA) specifically over the illegal conflicts presented by the lease agreement for the Trump International Hotel, which resides in the government-owned Old Post Office building.
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