Watch­dog to sue Trump over in­come

‘lle­gal for­eign gains’ cited

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.