Donald Trump’s U.S. presidency is just a few days old, but an ethics watchdog is ready to file a lawsuit against him for allegedly violating an obscure clause in the Constitution.
The progressive Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, says it intends to file the lawsuit Monday in federal court in Manhattan.
The emoluments clause prohibits foreign powers, including governments, from giving payments or gifts to the president without the approval of Congress.
Monetary damages not sought
According to The New York Times, which first reported the story Sunday, the suit is not seeking any monetary damages, but is instead asking the court to stop the president from taking payment from foreign “entities.”
CREW says because Trump has refused to completely divest from his businesses, “he is now getting cash and favors from foreign governments, through guests and events at his hotels, leases in his buildings and valuable real estate deals abroad.”
Sherri Dillon, one of Trump’s lawyers, said earlier this month,”No one would have thought when the Constitution was written that paying your hotel bill was an emolument.”
CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement, “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.”
Trump’s son: Suit is ‘harassment’
Eric Trump told The New York Times that CREW’s lawsuit is “purely harassment for political gain,” and characterized the move as “very, very sad.”
President Trump said recently he is creating a trust in which his two adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric, along with one of his Trump Organization executives, will run his global business interests.The plan falls short, however, of demands that he sell all his holdings and place his wealth in a blind trust in which he would have no idea how his money is invested.
Ethics analysts say that anything short of placing Trumps’s extensive assets in a blind trust leaves him open to repeated questions about whether actions he takes as president would benefit his financial interests.
CREW says when President Trump sits down to negotiate trade deals with various countries “the American people will have no way of knowing whether he will also be thinking about the profits of Trump the businessman.”
“President Trump has made his slogan ‘America First,” said Bookbinder.”So you would think he would want to strictly follow the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, since it was written to ensure our government officials are thinking of Americans first, and not foreign governments.”
Norm Eisen, an Obama administration ethics lawyer, is a member of CREW’s legal team.He told The Times that the suit is a way of getting a copy of Trump’s federal tax returns to properly evaluate the president’s business dealings with – and how much he owes to – foreign governments such as China and Russia.