Watchdog to sue Trump over income
‘llegal foreign gains’ cited
ALIBERAL watchdog group said yesterday it would file a lawsuit against US President Donald Trump in federal court, alleging that he is violating a little-known constitutional provision that bars him from taking gifts or payments from foreign governments.
The group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said that because Trump-owned buildings take in rent, room rentals and other payments from foreign governments, the president has breached the Foreign Emoluments Clause.
That clause in the constitution says: “No person holding any office of profit or trust under (the US), shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
It was written out of fear that the young republic’s leaders or ambassadors could be bought off by a richer European power.
The meaning of those words has never truly been tested in court.
The watchdog group says they should be interpreted to mean that Trump’s businesses should cease all business dealings with foreign states.
The clause, the legal complaint says, “is no relic of a bygone era, but rather an expression of insight into the nature of the human condition and the preconditions of self-governance”.
If the lawsuit were to succeed, it could put a major dent in the business of the Trump Organisation, whose businesses lease office space to state-owned companies, and whose Pennsylvania Avenue hotel rents its ballrooms for foreign embassy parties.
The mere process of the suit could prove embarrassing for the president if it drags out details of those business dealings from the Trump Organisation’s private files.
Norm Eisen, a lawyer working on the case, told the New York Times he hoped the suit could also produce a copy of Trump’s tax returns, which could detail the business he does with foreign states including China and Russia.
Trump’s lawyer, Sheri Dillon, did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment late on Sunday. Neither did Trump’s son, Eric Trump, who is among the leaders of the Trump Organisation while his father is president.
Attempts to reach the White House press office on Sunday evening were unsuccessful.
Before Trump took office, Dillon said he would transfer management of his businesses to his sons, Eric and Donald Trump jr, and other executives. The president will, however, not give up his ownership stakes.
Dillon said it is incorrect to say that Trump would violate the clause if his business merely did business with a foreign government – taking its money but giving it something of value in return.
“This is not what the constitution says. Paying for a hotel room is not a gift or a present and it has nothing to do with an office. It’s not an emolument,” Dillon said then. In this particular case, the suit appears likely to face difficult legal hurdles. One would be Dillon’s argument that paying a hotel bill is not a prohibited gift.
Another problem is the question of the watchdog group’s standing to sue. There is a general legal rule that, to file suit against someone for wrongdoing, a plaintiff must have suffered some specific harm from that wrongdoing.
That’s an issue that has hung over all the discussions of a Foreign Emoluments Clause lawsuit: If Trump did violate the constitution, who would he hurt? In this case, the watchdog group says, it was hurt by having to devote so much time to this issue.
“Crew has been forced to divert essential and limited resources from other important matters that it ordinarily would have been handling to the Foreign Emoluments Claus,” the planned lawsuit complaint says.
US President Donald Trump.