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President Trump faces lawsuit over receipt of foreign cash

Ethics attorneys will argue that Trump is actively violating the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.


Dell Cameron


Published Jan 23, 2017   Updated May 25, 2021, 3:56 am CDT

There will be no honeymoon for President Donald Trump. Instead, on Monday, during the start of his first full week in the White House, he’s being slapped with a lawsuit by a group of prominent ethics attorneys.

The lawsuit, expected to be the first of many, will argue that Trump is violating the Constitution by allowing his company, the Trump Organization, to continue accepting payments from foreign governments. Trump refused to surrender ownership of his company before taking the oath of office, instead allowing his children to assume control over business operations.

In particular, ethics attorneys say that Trump is actively violating the Emoluments Clause, which was written into the Constitution specifically to prevent U.S. officials from accepting money from a foreign state. The Trump Organization, from which Trump still collects revenue, owns numerous hotels frequented by foreign government officials. A Washington D.C. hotel leased by the Trump Organization has become ground zero for conflict-of-interest concerns because its contract specifically prohibits elected officials from having any stake in the property.

The legal team behind the lawsuit filed Monday includes former ethics lawyers for Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, a Supreme Court litigator, and a Harvard constitutional scholar, among others.

Trump’s vast business interests across the globe would appear to create numerous conflicts of interests, which is why the Office of Government Ethics repeatedly urged him to divest entirely from the Trump Organization before taking office vis-à-vis a blind trust. For example, a state-owned Chinese bank currently rents office space at Trump Tower in New York City.

The lawsuit will not seek any monetary damages, according to the New York Times. Instead, the attorneys are asking the court to bar the Trump Organization from accepting money from foreign states, including government officials who stay at his hotels or use his golf courses.

Trump has argued that U.S. presidents are incapable of having conflicts of interest, and his son, Eric Trump—who along with his older brother, Trump Jr., now runs the Trump Organization in the president’s stead—has characterized criticisms of his father’s business matters as “purely harassment for political gain.” 

What’s more, Trump has offered to donate all of the money he receives from foreign government visitors of his hotels to the U.S. Treasury. It is unclear, however, if that would actually resolve any conflicts or what oversight would be involved because the arrangement is wholly unprecedented. 

The lawyers are also reportedly aiming to gain access to Trump’s tax returns using the lawsuit, information which they say may be necessary to determine the full range of business ties between his businesses and foreign government entities. 

Trump promised to publish the tax returns after a routine audit during his campaign, but as of this weekend, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, asserted he has no intention to do so

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*First Published: Jan 23, 2017, 7:35 am CST