Com­pat­i­bil­ity of Trump busi­ness and pres­i­dency queried

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - Brian Witte

THE AT­TOR­NEYS-gen­eral of Mary­land and the District of Co­lum­bia hope a lit­tle-known clause in the con­sti­tu­tion will force Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to sep­a­rate him­self from his busi­nesses and re­lease his tax re­turns and other fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion, con­tend­ing in a law­suit he is cor­rupt­ible to for­eign gov­ern­ments who make pay­ments to his busi­nesses from around the world.

The emol­u­ments clause bars the pres­i­dent and other govern­ment em­ploy­ees from ac­cept­ing for­eign gifts and pay­ments with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval. A law­suit filed in fed­eral court in Mary­land on Mon­day al­leges that he is vi­o­lat­ing the con­sti­tu­tion by ac­cept­ing pay­ments from for­eign gov­ern­ments.

“We’re con­cerned that for­eign gov­ern­ments are com­ing to the Trump busi­nesses with a sin­gle pur­pose of cur­ry­ing spe­cial favour from the pres­i­dent of the US so that their in­ter­est can get a higher pri­or­ity than the in­ter­est of the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” District of Co­lum­bia at­tor­ney-gen­eral Karl Racine said at a news con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing the law­suit. “If that’s not a harm to ev­ery Amer­i­can cit­i­zen and ev­ery res­i­dent in the District of Co­lum­bia and Mary­land, I don’t know what is.”

Trump’s unique sta­tus as both pres­i­dent and the fi­nan­cial ben­e­fi­ciary of his global busi­ness em­pire raised ques­tions about the emol­u­ments clause of the con­sti­tu­tion, even be­fore he took of­fice. Trump and his at­tor­neys ar­gue the clause does not cover fair-value trans­ac­tions, such as ho­tel room pay­ments and real es­tate sales.

Not the first

The at­tor­neys-gen­eral are not the first to sue Trump over emol­u­ments. Just days af­ter Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in Jan­uary, the govern­ment watch­dog Cit­i­zens for Re­spon­si­bil­ity and Ethics in Wash­ing­ton (Crew) filed a fed­eral law­suit in the South­ern District of New York. Since then, a res­tau­rant group and two in­di­vid­u­als in the ho­tel in­dus­try have joined as plain­tiffs.

The jus­tice depart­ment said on Fri­day that those plain­tiffs did not suf­fer in any way and had no stand­ing to sue, and that it was un­con­sti­tu­tional to sue the pres­i­dent in his of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity. White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer noted that re­sponse at a White House brief­ing on Mon­day.

“This law­suit to­day is just another it­er­a­tion of the case that was filed by that group Crew, filed ac­tu­ally by the same lawyers,” Spicer said. “So it’s not hard to con­clude that par­ti­san pol­i­tics may be one of the mo­ti­va­tions be­hind the suit.”

But the two Demo­cratic at­tor­neys-gen­eral say their law­suit is unique, be­cause they are su­ing as sov­er­eign en­ti­ties on be­half of res­i­dents of Mary­land and Wash­ing­ton, DC. They say the Trump Ho­tel in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal af­fects busi­ness in the Wash­ing­ton area. Mary­land at­tor­ney-gen­eral Brian Frosh also un­der­scored that the framers of the con­sti­tu­tion in­cluded the clause for good rea­son.

“If the jus­tice depart­ment is right, the emol­u­ments clause has no mean­ing what­so­ever,” Frosh said. “The pres­i­dent can stand over here with his pres­i­dent of the US hat and he’s not al­lowed to take pay­ments, but he takes a step over here and puts on his busi­ness­man hat they can fun­nel as much money to him as they want. You got no emol­u­ments clause there, and it’s ab­so­lutely clear that the framers of the con­sti­tu­tion in­tended that to pro­tect us from pres­i­den­tial cor­rup­tion.”

The two at­tor­neys-gen­eral also hope that the case will build a record against Trump through the dis­cov­ery process in the court case.

Frosh said the pres­i­dent has dis­cussed some of his busi­ness deal­ings on the cam­paign trail, not­ing Trump’s men­tion that a state-owned Chi­nese bank has of­fice space in Trump Tower in New York.

“He bragged about that on the cam­paign trial,” Frosh said. “I don’t think he’s giv­ing it to them for free, and there are many sources that have given us in­for­ma­tion about the pay­ments that he has re­ceived. We’ll have a lot more af­ter we get dis­cov­ery.”

Racine noted that the emol­u­ments clause hasn’t been tested by the Supreme Court or fed­eral cir­cuit courts.

The law­suit also fo­cuses on the fact that Trump chose to re­tain own­er­ship of his com­pany when he be­came pres­i­dent.

If a fed­eral judge al­lows the case to pro­ceed, Racine and Frosh say they will de­mand copies of Trump’s per­sonal tax re­turns in court to gauge the ex­tent of his for­eign busi­ness deal­ings.

The clause does not cover fair-value trans­ac­tions, such as ho­tel room pay­ments and real es­tate sales.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is fac­ing another law­suit.

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