Nearly 200 Democrats in Congress sue Trump over foreign payments

Irshad Salim — Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a lawmaker from Connecticut, said nearly 200 Democrats in U.S. Congress filed a lawsuit Wednesday against President Donald Trump over foreign payment violations.

Blumenthal, a Democrat Senator himself, said the lawsuit has drawn at least 196 Congressional plaintiffs. No Republicans have joined the legal action but are invited, Blumenthal said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

At least 30 US senators and 166 representatives are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, representing the largest number of legislators to ever sue a US president, according to two lawmakers who are among the plaintiffs.

“The president’s failure to tell us about these emoluments, to disclose the payments and benefits that he is receiving, mean that we cannot do our job. We cannot consent to what we don’t know,” Sen. Blumenthal said.

Sen. Bluementhal is one of the lawmakers bringing the lawsuit. Representative John Conyers, another plaintiff, added that Trump “has conflicts of interest in at least 25 countries, and it appears he’s using his presidency to maximize his profits”.

The Democrats involved argue Trump is violating the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause by profiting from business deals involving foreign governments and continuing to do so without the consent of Congress.

Back in January, Trump announced plans to shift his assets into a trust managed by his sons, but not to give up ownership of the Trump Organization. It marked the greatest detail Trump has provided on how he would try to avoid conflicts between his business interests and service as president. However, there remains uneasiness among lawmakers making partisan divide visible on the matter.

In April, two surveys showed a majority of Americans said they are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about Trump’s conflicts of interests and clear majorities said he should disclose more information about his business dealings.

But conflict of interest laws are often not cut and dried, according to Beth A. Rosenson, a professor of political science at the University of Florida. They involve interpretation by lawyers within the Justice Department and judges, who can give a stamp of legitimacy (or illegitimacy) to presidential practices, wrote Rosenson.

In December, before Trump announced his plans, Bloomberg Politics poll revealed Americans might accept Trump’s proposed arrangement – maintaining ownership of his company while stepping aside from management

During the call with reporters, Blumenthal said Trump has “repeatedly and flagrantly violated” the Emoluments Clause. Blumenthal said Trump has “never sought the consent of Congress” for profits received in deals in more than 20 countries where his businesses operate.

The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution says no person holding a federal office of profit or trust shall — “without the Consent of the Congress” — accept any “present, emolument, (or) office … from any king, prince or foreign state.”

Although the president holds a federal office of “trust,” the clause does not name the president specifically, unlike other clauses in the Constitution — which has generated division over interpretation. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled whether the Emoluments Clause applies to the president.

Blumenthal said Democrats believe Trump “must either sell his vast holdings … or he must tell us and disclose now” all the benefits he receives from foreign governments. The Democrats also want access to Trump’s tax returns and business records.

The lawsuit by Democrats follows a similar lawsuit filed by attorneys general in Maryland and the District of Columbia also alleging Trump is violating the Emoluments Clause. The legal action cites his hotels, golf courses and other commercial properties, including Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Shortly after he was elected, Trump had said, “The law’s totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”

According to Rosenson, “legally speaking, though, he has a good case, with regard to several key statutes.” However, expanding her opinion she  wrote: “the decisions by the president and his daughter not to create truly blind trusts mean that concern over potential conflicts of interest will likely persist. Many other questions, such as those about the fitness of Trump’s daughter and son-in-law as top advisers, are also unlikely to disappear.

Simply asking the American people to trust the president, his three eldest children and his son-in-law to do the right thing may not be satisfactory for many Americans.”

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