(CN) — Nearly 200 Democratic members of Congress filed a federal complaint Wednesday against President Donald Trump, saying his vast international business holdings violate a centuries-old anti-bribery provision of the U.S. Constitution.
Trump has been the subject of at least four complaints under the Emoluments Clause since his inauguration. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics brought the first in January, and the attorney generals of Maryland and Washington, D.C., brought the last just this past Monday.
Filed in Washington this morning, the new case led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut brings up a provision of the clause that says Trump cannot accept prohibited emoluments — meaning payments, benefits or gifts — from foreign states without the consent of Congress. Thirty-one other members of the U.S. Senate signed the complaint, along with 160 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
That Trump has is indisputable, the congressmen note, pointing to the president’s own acknowledgement, through his personal attorney, “that his businesses receive funds and make a profit from payments by foreign governments, and that they will continue to do so while he is president.”
“Further, public reporting has confirmed that defendant and his businesses have already accepted some benefits from foreign states since he took office,” the complaint continues.
Making matters worse, Blumenthal says Trump “has taken the position that the Foreign Emoluments Clause does not require him to obtain such approval before accepting benefits arising out of exchanges between foreign states and his businesses.”
“Because Defendant has failed to come to Congress and seek its consent for at least some foreign emoluments that have been the subject of public reporting, it is impossible to know whether Defendant has also accepted, or plans to accept, other foreign emoluments that have not yet been made public,” the complaint states. “By accepting these benefits from foreign states without first seeking or obtaining congressional approval, Defendant has thwarted the transparency that the ‘Consent of the Congress’ provision was designed to provide.”
The complaint says Trump’s sprawling corporate empire “includes more than 500 separate entities — hotels, golf courses, media properties, books, management companies, residential and commercial buildings, … airplanes and a profusion of shell companies set up to capitalize on licensing deals.”
While it is well known that Trump’s “business empire is vast and global, the exact nature of his holdings and the benefits he receives from them remain unclear,” according to the lawmakers’ complaint.
“Defendant has refused to release his tax returns, and the complicated interconnection between the hundreds of discrete business entities and shell companies in which he owns an interest makes it impossible to determine the full scope of the benefits he is currently accepting from foreign states,” the complaint continues.