CREW to file lawsuit against Trump under the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution

Well this didn’t take long. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you this would happen, because I did. Foreign Payments to Trump Firms Violate Constitution, Suit Will Claim:

A team of prominent constitutional scholars, Supreme Court litigators and former White House ethics lawyers intends to file a lawsuit Monday morning alleging that President Trump is violating the Constitution by allowing his hotels and other business operations to accept payments from foreign governments.

In the new case, the lawyers argue that a provision in the Constitution known as the Emoluments Clause bans payments from foreign powers like the ones to Mr. Trump’s companies. They cite fears among the framers of the Constitution that United States officials could be corrupted by gifts or payments.

The suit, which will not seek any monetary damages, will ask a federal court in New York to order Mr. Trump to stop taking payments from foreign government entities. Such payments, it says, include those from patrons at Trump hotels and golf courses; loans for his office buildings from certain banks controlled by foreign governments; and leases with tenants like the Abu Dhabi tourism office, a government enterprise.

“The framers of the Constitution were students of history,” said Deepak Gupta, one of the lawyers behind the suit. “And they understood that one way a republic could fail is if foreign powers could corrupt our elected leaders.”

The legal team filing the lawsuit includes Laurence H. Tribe, a Harvard constitutional scholar; Norman L. Eisen, an Obama administration ethics lawyer; and Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Irvine. Among the others are Richard W. Painter, an ethics counsel in the administration of George W. Bush; Mr. Gupta, a Supreme Court litigator who has three cases pending before the court; and Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor and former congressional candidate who has been studying and writing about the Emoluments Clause for nearly a decade.

Ms. Teachout said the one place of potential concern was a nation like China, which rents space at Trump Tower in New York and is a major lender to an office building in New York that Mr. Trump controls in part.

Foreign governments, Ms. Teachout and other ethics experts warn, could rent out rooms in Trump hotels as a way to send a message to the Trump family. “If you think other countries are not going to try to leverage relationships with Trump’s companies to influence trade or military policy, that is naïve,” she said.

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Mr. Eisen said the legal team intended to use the lawsuit to try to get a copy of Mr. Trump’s federal tax returns, which are needed to properly assess what income or other payments or loans Mr. Trump has received from foreign governments.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is a liberal group known as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which until recently was controlled by David Brock, a Democratic Party operative and fervent supporter of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Mr. Eisen now serves as chairman of the organization’s board, and Mr. Painter is vice chairman.

The lawsuit may run into trouble, other legal experts said, given that CREW must demonstrate that it would suffer direct and concrete injury to give it standing to sue.

The group says it has suffered harm by having to divert resources from other work to monitor and respond to Mr. Trump’s activities. For example, the group said, it has answered hundreds of questions from news organizations.

In a 1982 decision, Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, the Supreme Court ruled that a civil rights organization had standing to sue because its use of black “testers” to see whether landlords and home sellers were abiding by federal law had hurt its ability to conduct other activities. But in recent decades, and outside the context of civil rights violations, the court has often been skeptical of broad assertions of standing.

Regardless of the lawsuit’s fate, it is just the first hint of the legal assault that the Trump administration will face.

Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said it was separately looking for plaintiffs to file a lawsuit alleging that Mr. Trump is violating the Emoluments Clause. It hopes to find a hotel or bed-and-breakfast that might compete against a Trump hotel as a party with standing to sue.

The A.C.L.U. filed an extensive Freedom of Information Act request on Thursday asking the Justice Department, the General Services Administration and the Office of Government Ethics for all legal opinions and memos they have prepared addressing financial or ethical conflicts that Mr. Trump might face. It could potentially use those documents in litigation against the Trump administration.

CREW filed a separate complaint with the General Services Administration on Friday over a provision that appears to prohibit the leasing of the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington to an elected federal official. The building is the site of Mr. Trump’s hotel.

Perhaps more important, the legal groups said they might challenge executive actions Mr. Trump is expected to take on topics like international trade deals, illegal immigration and climate change.

The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman writes, Trump won’t voluntarily release his tax returns. But maybe he can be forced to.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Kellyanne Conway was asked for a response to a petition on the White House website calling for Trump to release his returns (which had 265,000 signers as of this morning). She replied: “The White House response is that he’s not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care. They voted for him.” So there you have it.

For the record, people do care — in the most recent Post polling on the question, 74 percent of Americans, and 53 percent of Republicans, said he should release them. But that’s not the point. Even if public opinion was on his side on this question, keeping the returns secret would still be a remarkable display of contempt for the public’s right to know, not to mention highly dangerous given the unique nature of Trump’s finances and the opportunities he has to use the presidency to enrich himself and his family.

But then this morning, Conway went to Twitter (where else) to change her story:

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As always, we must note that this excuse for keeping the returns secret is entirely bogus. The IRS doesn’t prevent anyone from releasing his or her tax returns during an audit. It’s not like releasing them publicly is going to hurt him in his negotiations with the IRS over it (after all, they already have them — they’re the IRS). For that matter, we don’t even know if Trump is in fact being audited. Despite repeated requests, he has never produced an audit letter from the IRS proving that he’s under audit.

There’s virtually no doubt that Trump is hiding something. As I’ve said before, if Trump’s returns showed him to be engaged in various admirable business ventures, a generous donor to charity, and possessed of the wealth he claims, he’d release them in a second.

It’s critical to understand that there has never in American history been a president for whom it was more important that the public see his tax returns. No president has had the kind of complex web of financial interests that Trump does, a network of companies and arrangements and partnerships that provide extraordinary opportunities to essentially sell the presidency. Yet he declined to divest from his company, maintains ongoing business enterprises that allow money to be funneled to him by both domestic and foreign sources, and refuses to tell the public exactly what those enterprises are or how much money he takes in from them.

And we obviously can’t trust anything Trump tells us on this subject unless it’s independently verified. For instance, remember how he said he was going to be stepping away from his business? As this ProPublica report published Friday explains, “To transfer ownership of his biggest companies, Trump has to file a long list of documents in Florida, Delaware and New York. We asked officials in each of those states whether they have received the paperwork. As of 3:15 p.m. today, the officials said they have not.”

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Which is why a lawsuit is being filed Monday accusing Trump of being in violation of the emoluments clause. The plaintiff is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal group, and they’re being aided by an all-star team of law professors and government ethics experts:

The suit, which will not seek any monetary damages, will ask a federal court in New York to order Mr. Trump to stop taking payments from foreign government entities. Such payments, it says, include those from patrons at Trump hotels and golf courses; loans for his office buildings from certain banks controlled by foreign governments; and leases with tenants like the Abu Dhabi tourism office, a government enterprise.

It’s hard to know at this point whether they’ll prevail. But unless it gets thrown out on an issue like whether CREW has standing to sue (a possibility), just the fact that the suit goes forward could be enormously significant. Here’s why:

[Ethics expert Norman] Eisen said the legal team intended to use the lawsuit to try to get a copy of Mr. Trump’s federal tax returns, which are needed to properly assess what income or other payments or loans Mr. Trump has received from foreign governments.

This brings up my final point. We need Trump’s recent returns to know what kinds of business dealings he’s currently enmeshed in. But just as importantly if not more so, we need the future ones, so we can understand how his income changes and grows while he’s president. Past presidents have released their returns as soon as they were filed, often right around April 15 of every year.

If you think Trump would ever do this voluntarily, you haven’t been paying attention. But a court order might be just the thing to pry them from his grip.

Presidents are under no legal obligation to release their tax returns. But every president since Richard Nixon has done so while in office as part of a tradition of financial transparency (and Nixon was under an audit).

Sen. Ron Wyden (OR), the top Democrat on the Senate’s tax-writing committee, along with Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), introduced legislation earlier this month to require all sitting presidents and nominated presidential candidates to release their tax returns for the past three years. Want President Trump to release his tax returns? There’s a bill for that.

Will Tea-Publicans in Congress pass this bill? Or will they enable Trump by aiding and abetting his display of contempt for the public’s right to know and possible violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution?

2 Responses to CREW to file lawsuit against Trump under the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution

  1. so the republicans will impeach? I don’t think so.

    • For Sure Not Tom

      The GOP will use Trump for as long as they can, and when he gets to be more trouble than he’s worth, they’ll impeach him and cuddle up to Pence.

      Trump is a win/win for the GOP.