Watchdog group files lawsuit over foreign payments to Trump businesses

January 23, 2017
In The News

A Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group filed a lawsuit Monday alleging that President Trump is violating the U.S. Constitution by illegally receiving foreign payments through his businesses.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) says Mr. Trump is getting cash and favors from foreign governments through guests and events at his hotels, leases in his buildings, and overseas real estate deals.

In doing so, he is violating the Foreign Emoluments clause of the Constitution, which is meant to prevent U.S. officeholders from accepting gifts from foreign governments, according to the complaint filed Monday in federal court in New York.

Mr. Trump “has violated the Constitution during the opening moments of his presidency and is poised to do so continually thereafter for the duration of his administration,” the complaint says.

“We did not want to get to this point. It was our hope that President Trump would take the necessary steps to avoid violating the Constitution before he took office,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “He did not. His constitutional violations are immediate and serious, so we were forced to take legal action.”

The group also said it is seeking Mr. Trump’s tax returns as part of the discovery process in the case. Citing an ongoing audit, Mr. Trump became the first major-party presidential nominee in decades who declined to release his returns during the campaign.

The complaint alleges that CREW has been injured from Mr. Trump’s violation “in the form of a significant diversion and depletion of its time, resources, and efforts.”

Mr. Trump’s team has said that by definition, conflict of interest laws don’t apply to the president.

“Without merit. Totally without merit,” Mr. Trump said Monday in the Oval Office when asked about the lawsuit.

The president said earlier this month he’s turning control of his company over to Eric and Donald Jr., his two adult sons.

Sheri Dillion, Mr. Trump’s lawyer, also said earlier this month that any profits from foreign governments paying for Trump hotel rooms would be donated to the U.S. treasury.

But Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, said the Trump team’s position on conflicts is reminiscent of comments from former President Nixon.

Mr. Lieu announced Monday he has launched an online “Cloud of Illegitimacy Clock” that tracks the time he says Mr. Trump is operating outside the law.

“At some point, the Clock is going to catch up to Trump,” Mr. Lieu said. “For now, Trump appears to be taking the position of former President Richard Nixon that ‘when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.’ How did that work out?”

Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland Democrat, said Monday he thinks Mr. Trump is putting himself and the country at risk with the way he’s managing his personal wealth.

“There is a question, because he has so many foreign interests, as to whether he’s getting favors,” Mr. Cardin said on CNN’s “New Day.” “The Constitution’s pretty clear that you cannot accept any gifts from foreign governments.”