Columns

D.C., Maryland Attorneys General Sue Trump for 'Unprecedented Constitutional Violations'

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh listens as District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine answers a question during a news conference to announce their lawsuit against President Trump in Washington on June 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — Charging that President Trump is “flagrantly violating the Constitution” by “receiving gifts or inducements from foreign or domestic government entities” through business interests, the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against the commander in chief today.

The 48-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland says “unprecedented constitutional violations” of the Emoluments Clauses by Trump have hurt D.C. and Maryland.

“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 lawsuit states. “Whatever the sincerity of the persons involved, foreign and domestic officials are put in the position of considering whether offering benefits to businesses associated with the President is important to maintaining goodwill. And irrespective of whether such benefits affect the President’s decision-making or shift his foreign or domestic policy, uncertainty about whether the President is acting in the best interests of the American people, or rather for his own ends or personal enrichment, inflicts lasting harm on our democracy. The Framers of the Constitution foresaw that possibility, and acted to prevent that harm.”

Trump has committed “present and continuous” violations, the lawsuit charges, by “receiving millions of dollars in payments, benefits, and other valuable consideration from foreign governments and persons acting on their behalf, as well as federal agencies and state governments.”

“His repeated, ongoing violations include remuneration derived from: (a) leases of Trump properties held by foreign-government-owned entities; (b) purchase and ownership of condominiums in Trump properties by foreign governments or foreign-government-controlled entities; (c) other property interests or business dealings tied to foreign governments; (d) hotel accommodations, restaurant purchases, the use of venues for events, and purchases of other services and goods by foreign governments and diplomats at hotels, restaurants, and other domestic and international properties owned, operated, or licensed by President Trump; (c) continuation of the General Services Administration lease for President Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel despite his breach of the lease’s terms, and potential provision of federal tax credits in connection with the same property; and (d) payments from foreign-government-owned broadcasters related to rebroadcasts and foreign versions of the television program ‘The Apprentice’ and its spinoffs.”

“Moreover, President Trump, by asserting that he will maintain the interests at issue, is poised to engage in similar constitutional violations for the duration of his presidency,” the lawsuit added.

Among those business interests is the Trump International Hotel in D.C., which hired a “director of diplomatic sales” to lure representatives of foreign states. The lawsuit notes how Kuwait moved their National Day event to the Trump hotel after previously saving the date at the Four Seasons. The Embassy of Saudi Arabia has paid the Trump hotel $190,272 for lodging, $78,204 for catering, and 51,568 for parking through March 31, as detailed in a Foreign Agents Registration Act report.

Continuing to list other worldwide Trump interests and related foreign government involvement, the lawsuit adds that in New York, the majority state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is one of the biggest tenants at Trump Tower.

At a press conference today, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh unveiled their action to counter what they said was a historically unprecedented situation.

“The framers knew that government entities, foreign and domestic, would of course try to use things of value to influence or induce the president to do their bidding, instead of that of the American people,” Racine said.

“And now we see it every day. My office window is just a few floors above where we’re sitting today, and I can tell you that as I look out the window and see the tower of the Trump International Hotel, we know exactly what’s going on every single day. We know that foreign governments are spending money there in order to curry favor with the president of the United States.”

Racine added that “at the time they’re needed the most, traditional checks and balances are failing us.”

“First, by not divesting from his businesses, the president has chosen to put himself and our country in the situation we find ourselves today,” he said. “And every time the president has spoken about drawing a line between his presidency and his businesses, he’s walked his promises back. Second, the Republican-controlled Congress has wholly failed to fulfill its responsibility of serving as a check and balance on the president, and has thus far given the president a total pass on his business entanglements.”

“State attorneys general answer to the people of their jurisdictions, and we have a duty to enforce the law, and that’s why we’re taking action today.”

Frosh charged that “the president’s conflicts of interest threaten our democracy.”

“We cannot treat the president’s ongoing violations of the Constitution and his disregard of the rights of the American people as the new acceptable status quo,” he said.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters today, “The president’s interests, as previously discussed, do not violate the emoluments clause.”

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Lindsay Jancek called the lawsuit “absurd.”

“From day one, President Trump has been committed to complete transparency and compliance with the law,” Janeck said. The actions of the attorneys general represent the kind of partisan grandstanding voters across the country have come to despise. The American people elected President Trump to lead this country, and it is time Democrats end their efforts to delegitimize his presidency.”