MANHATTAN (CN) — In a federal complaint Monday against the newly minted U.S. president, the nation’s top attorneys say that Donald Trump’s web of “vast, complicated and secret” business interests violate the foreign emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Two former White House ethics counsel, three professors from top law schools and a Supreme Court litigator are among the legal firepower blasting Trump’s continued ownership of his self-named organization as a “creeping, insidious threat to the republic.”
“Never before have the people of the United States elected a president with business interests as vast, complicated, and secret as those of Donald J. Trump,” the 39-page complaint begins. “Now that he has been sworn into office as the 45th president of the United States, those business interests are creating countless conflicts of interest, as well as unprecedented influence by foreign governments, and have resulted and will further result in numerous violations of Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, the ‘foreign emoluments clause.’”
The Constitution’s emoluments clause holds that “no person holding any office of profit or trust under [the United States], shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
Trump has insisted that “the president can’t have a conflict of interest,” a refrain echoed by his White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks this morning.
Hicks reiterated to the Associated Press this morning that the “president has no conflicts.”
The lawsuit calls this tautological theory “misguided” — and worse.
“These violations of the foreign emoluments clause pose a grave threat to the United States and its citizens,” the complaint states. “As the framers were aware, private financial interests can subtly sway even the most virtuous leaders, and entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious threat to the republic. The foreign emoluments clause was forged of the framers’ hard-won wisdom. It is no relic of a bygone era, but rather an expression of insight into the nature of the human condition and the preconditions of self-governance. And applied to Donald J. Trump’s diverse dealings, the text and purpose of the foreign emoluments clause speak as one: This cannot be allowed.”
Lawyers from the two previous administrations join in this interpretation: President Barack Obama’s attorney Norman Eisen and President George W. Bush’s Richard Painter.
Participating scholars include Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California at Irvine; Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe; and Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout, a two-time candidate for political office and fierce advocate for progressive causes.
All sued under the umbrella of the anti-corruption organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
“We did not want to get to this point,” CREW’s executive director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “It was our hope that President Trump would take the necessary steps to avoid violating the Constitution before he took office. He did not. His constitutional violations are immediate and serious, so we were forced to take legal action.”
Among Trump’s known business interests, the 39-page complaint calls attention to possible entanglements related to the 45th president’s hotels, golf courses and clubs, as well as international royalties related to his reality-television show “The Apprentice” and its spin-offs.
Seven pages of the filing detail the specific conflicts-of-interest Trump’s businesses have brewing around the world, including in China, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Turkey, Scotland, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.
In China alone, Trump reportedly anticipates building between 20 to 30 luxury hotels.
The Trump International Golf Club is set to tee off for the first time next month at the United Arab Emirates’ capital of Dubai.
Just under a week after his election, Trump met with European Parliamentarian Nigel Farage to seek the UK nativist’s help ensuring that Scotland won’t construct offshore wind turbines that he believes will muss up the views from his Aberdeenshire golf course.
It is also well reported that Trump has cozied up with authoritarian leaders in countries where he is building towers, such as Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Vladimir Putin in Russia, and the Saudi royal family.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction blocking Trump from executing these and other actions and prohibiting him from violating the Emoluments Clause.
CREW is represented by Matthew Spurlock of the Washington firm Gupta Wessler.