Attorneys general for the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland announced Monday that they have filed a federal lawsuit against President Donald Trump for violating his constitutional oath by continuously accepting millions of dollars in payments and other benefits from foreign governments. Although Trump placed his businesses in a trust prior to his inauguration, an attorney representing the Trump Organization confirmed that the president has been able to withdraw money from the trust at his own discretion.
“President Trump has violated important anti-corruption provisions of the U.S. Constitution. We are a nation of laws and no one – including the President of the United States – is above the law,” said D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine. “As state attorneys general representing the people, we have a duty to serve as a check and balance against the president, whose business activities have opened the door to the type of corruption the Framers of our Constitution aimed to prevent.”
Instead of establishing a blind trust before entering the White House, the president placed his eldest sons in charge of the Trump Organization while continuing to profit from his hotels, golf courses, condominiums, and other business ventures. According to his son Eric Trump, the president receives routine updates concerning his financial interests.
“Elected leaders must serve the people, and not their personal financial interests. That is the indispensable foundation of a democracy,” asserted Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “We cannot treat a president’s ongoing violations of the Constitution and disregard for the rights of the American people as the new and acceptable status quo. The president, above all other elected officials, must have only the interests of Americans at the heart of every decision.”
The Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause states “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them [i.e., the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” According to the lawsuit, officials from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Georgia, and Turkey have booked rooms at Trump’s hotel near the White House while tweeting flattering reviews.
The lawsuit also pointed out that the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) initially told Trump to fully divest from his D.C. hotel after the election. Shortly after the president proposed an increase to the GSA’s budget, the agency abruptly changed its position by issuing a letter claiming that Trump was in full compliance.
“The District and Maryland are harmed by perceived and/or actual pressure to grant special treatment to the defendant and his extensive affiliated enterprises, or else be placed at a disadvantage vis-à-vis other states and governments that have granted or will grant such special treatment,” the lawsuit reads.
“The District and Maryland have an interest in protecting their economies and their residents, who, as the defendant’s local competitors, are injured by decreased business, wages, and tips resulting from economic and commercial activity diverted to the defendant and his business enterprises due to his ongoing constitutional violations.”
In January, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a similar lawsuit accusing Trump of accepting payments from foreign governments without approval from Congress. In April, Trump Organization attorney Alan Garten told ProPublica that the president has been able to withdraw funds from the trust that his sons manage since he took office.
On Monday, Racine took to Twitter and wrote, “State AGs serves as a check & balance – & that’s why we are suing Pres. #Trump for ignoring #Constitution’s anti-corruption law.”
Frosh tweeted, “It puts our democracy at risk when a president puts his financial interests before the American people. #emoluments”