This post has been updated.
Adding to the mountain of legal challenges Donald Trump's White House has faced during his first several months in office, attorneys general for Maryland and the District of Columbia sued the president on Monday for "unprecedented constitutional violations" related to his refusal to "disentangle his private finances from those of domestic and foreign powers."
"Never before has a President acted with such disregard for this constitutional prescription," Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine wrote, referring to the Constitution's Emoluments Clause.
Big news in emoluments world https://t.co/x34XF4cs8H
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) June 12, 2017
This is the latest legal avalanche Trump's volcano of Emoluments has triggered: https://t.co/o5EkfzzoKC
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) June 12, 2017
The Washington Post's Aaron Davis first reported on the lawsuit early Monday morning after the Post received a signed copy in the mail the previous night.
The suit, Davis noted, "is the first of its kind brought by government entities."
The lawsuit...centers on the fact that Trump chose to retain ownership of his company when he became president. Trump said in January that he was shifting his business assets into a trust managed by his sons to eliminate potential conflicts of interests.
But D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) say Trump has broken many promises to keep separate his public duties and private business interests. For one, his son Eric Trump has said the president would continue to receive regular updates about his company’s financial health.
News of the lawsuit comes as the Trump administration is under growing pressure following the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, who claimed under oath that the president and White House officials lied repeatedly about both the nature of their conversations and the reasons behind the director's firing in May.
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Opinion surveys have indicated that Trump's approval ratings remain low—38 percent, according to the latest Gallup poll—and that much of the public wants Congress to move forward with impeachment proceedings. Judging by the firestorm of reaction Davis's reporting has already sparked, the suit is likely to escalate these developments.
"This case is, at its core, about the right of Marylanders, residents of the District of Columbia and all Americans to have honest government," Frosh told the Post.
The Trump administration recently requested that a similar suit, filed by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), be dismissed. The case Frosh and Racine have put forth, though, presents the Trump administration with the "most significant legal challenge" it has yet faced, Davis noted.
If the case moves forward, it could help uncover significant facts related to Trump's business dealings that he has kept hidden from public view. Significantly, Frosh and Racine told the Post, "one of the first steps will be to demand through the discovery process copies of Trump's personal tax returns," which the president has steadfastly refused to release, skirting a long-standing custom.
"Every time the president has spoken about drawing a line between his presidency and his businesses, he's walked his promises back," Attorney General Racine said in a statement on Monday.
According to Norman Eisen, the board chairman of CREW who was also the chief White House ethics lawyer for former President Barack Obama, this suit "represents another storm, not just a dusting of snow, but a blizzard of trouble for Trump."
"Trump is the framers' worst-case scenario," Eisen told the Post, "a president who would seize office and attempt to exploit his position for personal financial gain with every governmental entity imaginable, across the United States or around the world."
Here is part of D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine's statement:
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) June 12, 2017
Watch the full statement below: