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Published: Wed, June 14, 2017
Economy | By Melissa Porter

DC, Maryland to sue President Trump for alleged breach of constitutional oath

DC, Maryland to sue President Trump for alleged breach of constitutional oath

The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia filed a federal lawsuit Monday against President Donald Trump, alleging he violated the Constitution by improperly retaining ties to his sprawling global business empire and by accepting foreign payments while in office.

Maryland and the United States capital sued President Donald Trump saying he is breaking laws by raking in money from foreign governments and businesses at his luxury hotels and office towers. It rests on the "Emoluments Clause", an 18th century provision in the Constitution that was aimed at keeping European royalty from corrupting American ambassadors with expensive gifts, and has never been fully tested in court.

Brian Frosh of Maryland and his DC counterpart Karl Racine claim Trump has accepted "millions in payments and benefits" since moving into the White House, in breach of a strict emoluments clause.

Ahead of the Monday lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a 70-page legal brief on Friday arguing that Trump's businesses are legally permitted to accept market-rate payments from foreign governments while he is in office.

Payments to the president's enterprises from foreign and domestic governments through his hospitality empire draw business away from Maryland and D.C. venues and put local governments under pressure to give Trump-owned businesses special treatment, according to the complaint.

Lindsay Jancek of the Republican National Committee called the lawsuit "absurd".

Jancek also says the American people elected Trump president, and that it's time Democrats "end their efforts to delegitimize his presidency".

"It's not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations" for filing suit, Spicer said.

On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the new state-backed lawsuit. Just days after Trump's inauguration in January, the government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of NY.

But the two Democratic attorneys general say their lawsuit is unique, because they are suing as sovereign entities on behalf of residents of Maryland and Washington, D.C. They say the Trump Hotel in the nation's capital affects business in the Washington area. Some Democratic members of Congress have also warned they plan to file suit.

Legal experts say the lawsuits raise thorny questions about who has legitimate standing in court to take on the president. The government lawyers have also felt that courts including the Supreme Court have no orders or powers to charge against the sitting presidents.

Can states force President Trump to sell off his businesses?

To fully know the extent of Trump's constitutional violations "we'll need to see his financial records, his taxes that he has refused to release", they said.

Racine acknowledged the case could break new ground.

The government also said payments to Trump's hotels do not qualify as a violation of the emoluments clause, which is meant to cover personal services performed by the president. He has cited an ongoing IRS audit as the reason. He has handed day-to-day operations over to his two adult sons, but he's still profiting from his businesses. Many people especially from the opposition side, the Democrats, are insisting that Trump should keep of his individual ventures, but the possibility of this lawsuit to succeed remain very slim.

Newly filed lobbying disclosures show the Saudi government recently spent about $270,000 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington as part of a larger lobbying campaign to ease a US terrorism law.

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