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The Trump hotel in Washington, D.C. has been the site of many protests, and foreign visits, since the president took office. (Photo: Ted Eytan/flickr/cc)

Lawsuit Against Trump Grows to Encompass More Violations—and Plaintiffs

As of Tuesday, the lawsuit against President Donald Trump lists "gratuitous Chinese trademarks" as among his potential constitutional violations

Deirdre Fulton

The lawsuit charging President Donald Trump is in violation of the U.S. Constitution by accepting benefits or gifts from foreign governments through his hotel properties expanded in multiple ways on Tuesday.

For one thing, the lawsuit—filed on Trump's first full business day in office by watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)—now lists "gratuitous Chinese trademarks" among its alleged violations, stating:

Despite denying Defendant trademark protection for over ten years, including in a ruling from an appellate court, and despite China's law barring the use of foreign leaders' names as trademarks, China gave Defendant the trademark he had requested and valued. However, China only gave the trademark protection to Defendant after he had been elected President, questioned the One China policy, was sworn in, and re-affirmed the One China policy.

Last month, China awarded the Trump business empire 38 trademarks, covering everything from hotels and golf clubs to bodyguard and concierge services. At the time, AP noted that Trump initially applied for those trademarks while publicly campaigning that he would penalize China economically. Since becoming president, his stance has softened significantly.

"Our standing to bring this suit is now irrefutable. That means that Donald Trump will have no choice but to defend his unprecedented conflicts of interest in court."
—Deepak Gupta, Gupta Wessler PLLC

"When asked why Defendant changed his position on the One China policy, and whether he had gotten something in exchange from China, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer answered: 'The President always gets something,' but did not specify what concession was obtained from China," the amended complaint reads. 

(The development comes on the same day as news outlets reported China approved three trademarks for Ivanka Trump's business on the same day she dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.)

The CREW lawsuit also now includes two additional plaintiffs—Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, an association comprising more than 25,000 restaurant workers and restaurants, and Washington, D.C.-based events booker Jill Phaneuf. 

They allege lost business, as foreign governments book events at Trump properties in a possible attempt to curry favor with the president, according to a statement from CREW.

"Undoubtedly, if foreign governments feel compelled to use Trump establishments over other hurts the restaurant industry," said ROC United co-founder and co-director Saru Jayaraman on Tuesday. "ROC United stands with CREW to tell the president that the age of unconstitutionality is over."

Added Phaneuf: "This isn't about politics, I'm a registered Republican and I believe nothing is more important that our Constitutional protections. I joined this lawsuit because the president is taking business away from me and others with unfair business practices that violate the Constitution."

Those representing the plaintiffs said the case against Trump is becoming more iron-clad. "These are real businesses suffering real injury," said Deepak Gupta of the firm Gupta Wessler PLLC. "Our standing to bring this suit is now irrefutable. That means that Donald Trump will have no choice but to defend his unprecedented conflicts of interest in court."

Meanwhile, the Justice Department hinted to the New York Times how it might respond to the lawsuit. As the Times reported:

Justice Department lawyers, who have been working for weeks on their answer to the lawsuit, plan to counter that the framers of the Constitution meant only to rule out gifts and compensation for services. The Justice Department is expected to argue that ordinary arm's length transactions for services, like the payment of a restaurant bill at a hotel, are not prohibited.

They will also contend that only Congress can intervene if a president violates either the domestic or foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution. Under the separation of powers doctrine, they argue, courts are powerless to act.

Harvard University Constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe, who is helping CREW with its case, called the administration's potential defense "totally lame."

"Beating them in court will be sinfully pleasurable!" he declared online.

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