Moral Low Ground

US Government

Trump Sued Over ‘Unconstitutional’ Foreign Payments

Trump Tower, New York (Photo: Arthur Caranta/Flickr Creative Commons)

A federal lawsuit filed Monday against Donald Trump claims the president is violating the Constitution by allowing his businesses to receive payments from foreign governments.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group composed of prominent constitutional scholars, Supreme Court litigators and former White House ethics lawyers, filed the lawsuit in a New York City federal court, CNBC reports. The suit accuses Trump of violating the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution, which states that “no person holding any office… shall, without the consent of Congress, accept any present, emolument, office or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state.”

The plaintiffs are asking the court “to stop Trump from violating the Constitution by illegally receiving payments from foreign governments” with ties to Trump interests. “[Trump’s] violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause pose a grave threat to the United States and its citizens,” the lawsuit asserts. “As the Framers were aware, private financial interests can subtly sway even the most virtuous leaders, and entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious threat to the Republic.”

The alleged violations relate to Trump’s business relationships with foreign entities, including the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a tenant in Trump Tower in New York whose lease will expire during the president’s term. This raises the prospect of the Chinese government negotiating a new lease with the Trump Organization. The Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, owned by the United Arab Emirates, is also a tenant. Other Trump properties in Indonesia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Kingdom also require permits or special exemptions. Additionally, the suit states that Trump earns royalty payments from his television show The Apprentice and its spinoffs, which often air on networks under ownership or control of foreign governments.

“When Trump the president sits down to negotiate trade deals with these countries, the American people will have no way of knowing whether he will also be thinking about the profits of Trump the businessman,” CREW said on its website.

Reuters reports President Trump on Monday dismissed the lawsuit against him as “without merit.” The president’s attorneys argue the emoluments clause does not apply to fair market payments, but rather to special treatment or gifts from foreign officials. “No one would have thought when the Constitution was written that paying your hotel bill was an emolument,” Morgan Lewis partner Sheri A. Dillion argued, according to the New York Times.

While CREW is confident it will prevail, other legal experts aren’t so sure. While Boston University Law School Professor Jay Wexler told Reuters that “the substantive claim is certainly reasonable,” he said the judge appointed to the case “will find that the plaintiff lacks standing, or alternatively that the claim presents a political question and that it should not weigh in on the merits.”

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  1. Playa SlumlordJanuary 25, 2017 at 4:30 amReply

    Did not Hillary accept MILLIONS for speeches to foreign entities while Secretary of State???

    • Brett WilkinsJanuary 25, 2017 at 11:44 amReplyAuthor

      Hillary Clinton is not president, Donald Trump is. That’s the biggest difference. It could be argued that Clinton’s alleged misdeeds — and they are considerable — are irrelevant now.

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