MANHATTAN (CN) — Now that President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort appears to be doubling as a diplomatic retreat and a reputed “open-air Situation Room,” a New York attorney has filed a new class-action lawsuit aiming to force the president to return foreign cash flowing into his companies back to “the people.”
Attorney William R. Weinstein’s lawsuit attempts to enforce a vow to avoid financial entanglements Trump made just over a week before his inauguration.
On Jan. 11, Trump’s attorneys from the Philadelphia-based global law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP authored a six-page “white paper” insisting that the Constitution did not ban foreign officials from paying for Trump’s hotels.
“To put to rest any concerns, however, the President-Elect is announcing he will donate all profits from foreign governments’ patronage of his hotels and similar businesses during his presidential term to the U.S. Treasury,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in the paper.
Weinstein’s class-action lawsuit against the Trump Organization’s trustees — the president, his sons Donald J. and Eric Trump, and his executive Allen Weisselberg — asks a federal judge to give the white paper’s promise some teeth.
“The extraordinarily complex nature of the business holdings of The Trump Organization require the exercise of the equitable judicial power of this court to unravel the sources and amounts of ‘all profits from foreign governments’ patronage of [President Trump’s] hotels and similar businesses during his presidential term that should be held in the constructive trust until paid to the U.S. Treasury,” Weinstein’s 11-page complaint states.
In a phone interview, Weinstein said it was a coincidence that he filed his lawsuit the day before Trump’s eyebrow-raising weekend with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
The New York Times reported that Mar-a-Lago doubled its membership fees in the wake of Trump’s presidency to $200,000, with annual fees now set at $14,000 and a stay at the hotel costing up to $2,000 a night.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on Friday that Trump paid Abe’s tab at Mar-a-Lago, sparking another scandal to dog the diplomatic huddle.
The Washington Post described the Mar-a-Lago Club’s terrace as an “open-air Situation Room,” where club members live-streamed U.S. and Japanese leaders reacting in real time to a national-security crisis involving North Korea.
Club member Richard DeAgazio snapped a selfie with an armed service member holding the nuclear “football” that would allow Trump to launch a nuclear attack.
Experts from two non-profit anti-corruption watchdogs — the Sunlight Foundation and Common Cause — denounced the Mar-a-Lago huddle for promoting Trump’s brand and raising the appearance of currying favor with a foreign leader, The State reported.
In this instance, Trump footing Abe’s bill likely avoided the need to steer the money the Japanese prime minister would otherwise have paid to the Treasury, but Weinstein wants the judge to shine a light on any foreign-dignitary cash pouring into Trump businesses.
“These profits belong in good conscience to the People, and can clearly be traced to particular funds held in the trust under the possession, custody and control of the trustees,” the lawsuit states.
The Trump Organization’s attorney Matthew Maron predicted that the lawsuit would be dismissed.
“This is just another politically-motivated litigation consisting of claims which are baseless and without merit,” Maron wrote in an email.
Trump’s profits off his presidency have already been labeled a “creeping, insidious threat to the republic,” in a Manhattan Federal Court lawsuit filed three days after his inauguration.
In their Jan. 23 complaint, six of the United States’ top legal minds — two former White House counsel, three law professors, and a Supreme Court litigator — asked a federal judge to declare the Trump Organization in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which restricts U.S. presidents from receiving gifts from foreign governments.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the non-profit watchdog behind the original emoluments clause suit, declined to comment on this most recent lawsuit.
Unlike CREW’s case, Weinstein does not seek a declaration that Trump’s business dealings violate the Constitution, but rather a judicially enforced mechanism to make Trump to honor his word.
“They are pursuing a noble cause, but my complaint is just highly focused on [this one] area,” Weinstein said, referring to CREW’s lawsuit.
Morgan Lewis, the firm behind the white paper, declined to comment.