Attorneys General Karl A. Racine of D.C. and Brian E. Frosh of Maryland announced Monday that they are suing President Donald Trump over his business dealings, claiming that foreign payments made to Trump’s businesses are unconstitutional.
The suit, which was filed in federal court Monday morning, alleges that the payments made to Trump’s businesses violate an anti-corruption clause in the Constitution known as the emoluments clause, which restricts members of the government from receiving gifts from foreign states with the consent of the U.S. Congress. It centers on the fact that he chose to retain ownership of his company during his term as president, and has since accepted millions of dollars from foreign governments.
Racine said Trump has not upheld his promises to separate his business dealings from the presidency, and Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate have “given the president a total pass on his business entanglements.”
Despite promises to divest himself from his global empire as president, Trump maintained ownership of his many businesses, saying that he has handed control to his two oldest sons and has moved his assets into a trust during his time in office.
“We are a nation of laws, and no one, including the president of the United States, is above the law,” Racine said. “State attorneys general are serving as a necessary check and balance in the Trump era where others fail.”
The complaint claims that businesses owned by Trump divert business from D.C. and Maryland’s government facilities, thus financially and economically harming them. It also states their governments are pressured to provide Trump businesses with permits and tax breaks to receive necessary federal funding.
“We don’t know the extent of the [Trump’s] business dealings, and that’s a problem,” Racine said.
The two attorneys general said Saudi Arabian officials have already spent hundreds of thousands at the new Trump International Hotel, which rests just blocks from the White House, and that Trump’s businesses collect fees from foreign governments including China, India and Qatar, which own property at Trump Tower and Trump World Tower.
Frosh alleged that Trump has used his position as the president to market his brands and raise the profiles of his businesses by making frequent appearances and hosting foreign diplomats and officials at his many Trump establishments. He pointed out that Trump’s Florida Mar-a-Lago resort fees doubled to $200,000 after Trump took office and that the president’s resorts have been promoted on the State Department and embassy websites.
“We do not sue the president of the United States casually,” Frosh said. “It’s unprecedented that the American people have to question, day after day whether decisions or actions are taken to benefit the United States or to benefit Donald Trump.”
No court has ever interpreted exactly what constitutes an emolument.
The U.S. Department of Justice has already struck down a similar lawsuit. It moved on June 9 to dismiss a similar lawsuit filed in January by the government watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). In a brief, it argued that the clauses did not apply to fair-market commercial transactions.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the White House would also move to dismiss the most recent case, calling the lawsuit a product of “partisan politics.”
“The suit was filed by two Democratic attorneys general, the lawyers driving the suit are an advocacy group with partisan ties, it actually started with a press conference as opposed to filing it, which is interesting, and the suit challenges the sort of business transactions that everyone from Penny Pritzker, who served in the last administration, and others have engaged in while in office,” Spicer said.
Pritzker served as former President Barack Obama’s secretary of commerce.
Racine and Frosh said they would like the lawsuit to be bipartisan and would welcome Republican attorneys general in other states to join.
Trump has 60 days to respond to the motion.