The lawsuit presents the first major government challenge over alleged Trump corruption under the emoluments clause of the Constitution.
The clause (Article I of the Constitution) specifically prohibits the president from accepting “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign State” without the consent of Congress.
Attorneys general Brian Frosh for Maryland and Karl A. Racine for the District of Columbia, are expected to file the suit today (June 12). Both are Democrats, although Maryland’s governor Lawrence Hogan Jr. is a Republican.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has also sued the president for allegedly violating the emoluments clause. The non-profit Washington, D.C. advocacy group also asserts the clause prohibits Trump-owned business from accepting payments from foreign governments.
The suit, which includes a number of legal scholars as plaintiffs, is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a 70-page legal brief to dismiss the case.
A big bone of contention is the Trump Organization’s ownership of the Trump International Hotel in the nation’s capital. Trump holds a 60-year lease on the government-owned Old Post Office Pavilion, which he converted to the hotel.
The project includes a tax abatement worth an estimated $160 million.
Foreign dignitaries have gone out of their way to stay at the hotel since Trump became president. But the lease specifically prohibits any “elected official of the government” to hold “any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.”
So far, the General Services Administration (GSA), which administers the lease, has determined that there is no violation.
Trump still holds an ownership interest in the Trump Organization, and receives updates on its finances, even though he said in January he was putting his sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. in charge of the company, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit charges the president remains “deeply enmeshed with a legion of foreign and domestic government actors,” undermining the integrity of the U.S. political system.
“Fundamental to a President’s fidelity to [faithfully execute his oath of office] is the Constitution’s demand that the President … disentangle his private finances from those of domestic and foreign powers.
“Never before has a President acted with such disregard for this constitutional prescription,” according to the suit, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.
If the lawsuit survives efforts to have it dismissed, Racine and Frosh told the Post they would seek to discover Trump’s personal tax returns to determine his financial involvement with foreign entities.
“This case is, at its core, about the right of Marylanders, residents of the District of Columbia and all Americans to have honest government,” Frosh told the newspaper. “We’ll need to see his financial records, his taxes that he has refused to release.”
Racine also criticized the Republican majority Congress for failing to address the president’s conflicts of interest.
“We’re getting in here to be the check and balance that it appears Congress is unwilling to be,” he said.
The lawsuit will be filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.