GREENBELT, Md. (CN ) - The attorneys general for Maryland and the District of Columbia sued President Donald Trump on Monday, claiming he is violating the Constitution's Foreign Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from accepting payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress.
The June 12 lawsuit marks the first legal action taken against the president by state government officials for alleged violations of the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses and claims that the president has used his position to boost his business enterprises.
"President Trump's continued ownership interest in a global business empire, which renders him deeply enmeshed with a legion of foreign and domestic government actors, violates the Constitution and calls into question the rule of law and the integrity of the country's political system," the 48-page complaint states.
The White House said Monday the president’s business interests do not violate the Emoluments Clause, and that the lawsuit is nothing more than blatantly partisan politics.
To avoid conflicts of interest, Trump had promised in January to put his business assets in a trust, which his two sons would manage. But D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, both Democrats, claim that Trump has failed to do that and is blurring the line between his private interests and public responsibilities as president.
Regardless of the sincerity of foreign gifts, the lawsuit alleges that questions will linger about whether such gifts are seen as essential to maintaining goodwill, and whether the president will be acting in the best interests of the American people, rather than for his own personal enrichment.
The two state attorneys general claim in the complaint that President Trump violated the two anti-corruption provisions by accepting foreign lease payments and condominium purchases of Trump held properties; other business dealings that are tied to foreign governments; the use of Trump held properties for events, hotel accommodations and restaurant purchases; the ongoing lease of the Trump hotel in Washington; and payments from foreign rebroadcasts of "The Apprentice."
"These present and continuing violations of the Constitution's anti-corruption protections threaten the free and independent self-governance at the core of our democracy," the lawsuit reads.
Racine and Frosh say the presidents' ongoing business entanglements also leave him open to corrupt influence. Meanwhile, foreign officials and diplomats have made clear they are more likely to frequent the president's properties and businesses.
During a press conference about the lawsuit Monday afternoon, Racine noted the view of the Trump International Hotel from his office window and said he knows exactly what’s going on there.
"We know that foreign governments are spending money there in order to curry favor with the president of the United States," Racine said.
The Saudi Arabian government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at the hotel, Raccine said, citing just one example of how the president's vast global businesses are entangled with state and foreign government interests.
"Never, in the history of this country, have we had a president with these kinds of extensive business entanglements or a president who refused to adequately distance themselves from their holdings," Raccine said.
"No one is above the law. No one, not even the president can be allowed to endanger our democracy and erode our faith in our institutions," Racine said.
The system of checks and balances has failed to address the president’s conflicts of interest, according to Raccine, including Congress, which he said has given the president “a total pass on his business entanglements.”
“State attorney generals answer to the people of their jurisdictions and we have a duty to enforce the law,” Raccine said. “And that’s why we’re taking action today.”
According to Racine, the lawsuit shows that state attorney generals can also serve as a check on executive power.
“Like the unfairly maligned press corps and the courts, state attorney generals are serving as a necessary check and balance in the Trump era where others fail,” he said.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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