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Conyers, Blumenthal Grapple with Grassley Over Emoluments Clause

WASHINGTON – Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) on Friday filed an amicus brief backing Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s lawsuit against President Trump concerning potential conflicts of interest with foreign entities.

The lawsuit filed earlier this year charges that the president is violating the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, which requires that elected officials seek congressional approval when receiving gifts and payments from foreign governments. Groups behind multiple lawsuits on the issue contend that Trump has unlawfully profited from foreign entities staying at Trump hotels in Washington, D.C., and New York City while also improperly benefiting from 40 Chinese trademarks.

Blumenthal and Conyers are the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought by nearly 200 Democratic lawmakers claiming emoluments clause violations. Friday’s filing came a day after The Washington Post reported that the Trump International Hotel had recorded nearly $2 million in profit for the first four months of 2017, a $4 million departure from the organization’s projected $2 million loss. Citing recently released documents from the General Services Administration, the newspaper reported that the hotel charged a nightly rate averaging $650, outpacing other major luxury hotels in D.C. like the Hay-Adams, Four Seasons and Willard, which charged about $500 per night.

“The payments from foreign governments that President Trump’s hotel is raking in are just one example of how President Trump is thumbing his nose at the Constitution and the American people,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “The immense magnitude of President Trump’s vast business empire is no excuse for his disregard for the Constitution and disrespect for the American people. No one – not even the president – is above the law.”

In addition to concerns about foreign officials paying for rooms and events in Trump’s D.C. hotel, the group of Democratic lawmakers also raised issues about foreign states renting space at Trump Tower in New York City. Conyers said that the emoluments clause was put in place to ensure that American “leaders put the national interest above their personal interests.”

Larry Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, in an interview Monday called the complaint from Blumenthal and Conyers a “bad joke.” Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog, monitors potential government misconduct and has closely followed spending by the Trump and Obama administrations.

“First, the president himself is not personally profiting from his hotel, and his corporation is now being run by his two sons,” Klayman wrote in an email Monday.

Klayman also raised his own claims against Conyers, stating that the Michigan lawmaker “stiffed me for about $7,000 in past due rent” during his political campaign in 1996. Klayman alleged that his law firm rented space to the Conyers campaign at 501 School Street S.W. in Washington.

“Perhaps he should be sued instead of Trump,” Klayman said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Friday asked that Blumenthal, Conyers and other plaintiffs explain their “narrow, partisan focus” behind the lawsuits. The Iowa senator argued that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received improper gifts from foreign entities through her husband.

In letters to Blumenthal and Conyers, Grassley listed various six-figure payments awarded to President Clinton while Hillary Clinton was serving, including $175,000 from a local government in Canada, $500,000 from the Abu Dhabi Global Environment Data Initiative, $500,000 from a Russian-government-linked bank and $200,000 for a speech that the Chinese government allegedly supported.

“Selective efforts to enforce the Clause smack of partisan political bias,” Grassley wrote. “A fair examination of Secretary Clinton’s financial benefits from foreign government entities and instrumentalities, by your reasoning, plainly shows that those benefits implicate the Clause. Yet your complaint raised none of these concerns.”