- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2017

The attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., accused President Trump in a lawsuit filed Monday of violating anti-corruption laws through his ownership of companies that have accepted millions of dollars from foreign governments during his time in office.

The president’s continued ownership interest in a global business empire “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.

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine said legal action was needed because “traditional checks and balances are failing us.”

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, alleges the president has broken two “emoluments” clauses of the U.S. Constitution — which ban federal officials from accepting gifts from foreign governments and the president from accepting benefits other than a salary from federal or state governments while in office.

Though the lawsuit notes Mr. Trump previously said he was turning the leadership and management of the Trump Organization over to his sons — Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — it states that the plan “did not include relinquishing ownership of his businesses or establishing a blind trust.”

Because Mr. Trump continues to profit from those businesses, the lawsuit claims that Americans are left uncertain whether the president’s decisions “are driven solely by unyielding loyalty to the country’s best interests, or rather are affected by self-interested motivations grounded in the international and domestic business dealings in which President Trump’s personal fortune is at stake.”

The lawsuit accuses Mr. Trump of using his position as president to bolster patronage at his various businesses, including hotels, restaurants and golf clubs.

“We know exactly what is going on every single day,” said Mr. Racine, referencing the Trump International Hotel in Washington. “Foreign governments are spending money there in order to curry favor with the president of the United States.”

The White House shrugged off the lawsuit, saying it was a partisan attack.

“It’s not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations behind the suit,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer. “We’ll move to dismiss this case in the normal course of business.”

Although both Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Mr. Racine are Democrats, they said the lawsuit was not a partisan action.

“We do not sue the president of the United States casually,” Mr. Frosh said during a news conference announcing the lawsuit. “It’s unprecedented that the American people must question day after day if actions are taken to benefit the United States or to benefit Donald Trump.”

The lawsuit cites several examples of alleged emoluments violations, naming a list of foreign diplomats and officials who have stayed at the Trump International Hotel in the District and Mr. Trump’s continued reliance on his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida as the “winter White House,” where he has traveled routinely while in office and hosted foreign leaders.

The club hiked its initial membership fees after the president’s election from $100,000 to $200,000. Room rates at the D.C. hotel have also skyrocketed.

The lawsuit also alleges that China’s issuance of a trademark to the Trump Organization counts as a gift to the president, noting that Mr. Trump had sought a trademark in China for his business interests for 10 years before one was granted this year.

The trademark award came after Mr. Trump publicly questioned the “one China” policy, under which Washington accepts Beijing’s stance that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it. Mr. Trump later affirmed U.S. commitment to that position.

As part of the lawsuit, Mr. Frosh and Mr. Racine said they would be seeking Mr. Trump’s financial information, including tax returns he has thus far declined to publicly disclose.

The attorneys general said they are seeking a declaratory judgment ruling that Mr. Trump violated the Constitution and an order enjoining him from violating the law. Mr. Frosh said it was up to the courts to decide what sort of limits could be imposed.

“If the court says you can’t both run these businesses with all these entanglements … you can’t continue to do that and continue to be president, then he will have to choose,” Mr. Frosh said.

The Republican National Committee called the lawsuit “absurd.”

“From day one, President Trump has been committed to complete transparency and compliance with the law,” said RNC spokesman Lindsay Jancek. “The actions of the attorneys general represent the kind of partisan grandstanding voters across the country have come to despise.”

The lawsuit follows a similar claim made by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. In a lawsuit filed in January, the group said Mr. Trump violated the Constitution by letting his businesses accept payments from foreign governments — such as payment by diplomats for stays at his hotels or foreign governments for leases of office space in his buildings.

The Justice Department has sought to get that lawsuit dismissed, arguing Friday that the plaintiffs in the case do not have standing to sue.

The new lawsuit, as part of its effort to claim standing, alleges that D.C. and Maryland are harmed because Mr. Trump’s involvement draws customers away from other competing businesses such as the National Harbor resort in Prince George’s County, Maryland, or the Carnegie Library in Washington. 

Staff writer S.A. Miller contributed to this report.


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