A group of prominent law professors and attorneys filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump on Monday claiming that Trump is flouting the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution by allowing his companies to do business with foreign governments and foreign leaders while he is the U.S. commander-in-chief.
The Foreign Emoluments Clause, which appears in Article I (Section 9) of the Constitution, stipulates that no one holding any federal office may accept payments, compensation or gifts of any kind from any foreign government without the consent of Congress.
The actual plaintiff in the lawsuit is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a notably anti-Republican organization managed until recently by ardent Democratic Party lapdog David Brock.
The lawsuit contends that Trump has continuously violated the constitutional clause since the very minute he swore the oath of office on Friday, according to The New York Times.
The lawsuit asks a federal court in New York to order Trump to stop receiving all forms of payments and other compensation from foreign governments.
Such payments would include, for example, payments for staying at Trump hotels and greens fees for playing at Trump golf courses. Also prohibited — more critically — would be loans from banks linked to foreign governments and leases linked to foreign governments such as Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority.
Perhaps most critically of all, the lawsuit will seek to obtain the complete records of Trump’s previously undisclosed income tax filings on the theory that the tax returns will show the income Trump may be receiving from foreign governments.
The lawsuits seeks no monetary damages.
The legal dream team making the arguments in the lawsuit includes Harvard Law professor Laurence H. Tribe; University of California, Irvine School of Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky; and Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, a longtime scholar of the Emoluments Clause.
Also part of the lawsuit are Obama administration ethics lawyer Norman L. Eisen; Richard W. Painter, an ethics attorney during the George W. Bush administration; and Deepak Gupta, a noted attorney with a trio of cases currently pending in the Supreme Court.
“The framers of the Constitution were students of history,” Gupta told the Times. “And they understood that one way a republic could fail is if foreign powers could corrupt our elected leaders.”
Teachout noted that China rents space at Trump Tower in New York City and is among the principal lenders involved in the financing of an office building Trump partially controls.
“If you think other countries are not going to try to leverage relationships with Trump’s companies to influence trade or military policy, that is naïve,” Teachout, a former candidate for Congress, told the Times.
“Since Trump refused to divest from his businesses, he is now getting cash and favors from foreign governments, through guests and events at his hotels, leases in his buildings, and valuable real estate deals abroad,” CREW said in a press release.
Eric Trump, one of Donald Trump’s sons and a kingpin of Trump’s business empire, insisted that Trump is not currently violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause.
“This is purely harassment for political gain, and, frankly, I find it very, very sad,” Eric Trump told the Times.
One huge hurdle which the various legal scholars behind the case will need to overcome is the problem of standing.
“Quite apart from the substantive merits of the claim, it’s hard to see how there are plaintiffs with standing to sue,” suggests University of Wisconsin Law School law professor Ann Althouse. “How does the money paid in rent and hotel bills to the Trump organization cause concrete and particularized injury to anyone? You could say we are all injured by the possibility that commercial activities could influence the President’s decisions, but that’s the sort of generalized grievance that isn’t enough.”
George Washington University Law School public interest law professor John Banzhaf is skeptical that the lawsuit will succeed.
“It has been said that ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,’ and that many law professors could not litigate themselves out of a paper bag, much less find their way to the courthouse,” Banzhaf, himself the winner of over 100 court proceedings, said in a statement sent to The Daily Caller concerning the newly-filed Emoluments Clause lawsuit.
“So, while this suit must be judged on its individual merits, the public should not assume that it has a significant probability of success simply because prominent law professors are backing it,” Banzhaf advised.
The Emoluments Clause lawsuit is one of several legal gambits and maneuvers expected to be unleashed in the near future by left-leaning legal advocacy groups.
For example, notes The Christian Science Monitor, the American Civil Liberties Union has indicated that it is seeking plaintiffs who may want to sue Trump under the Emoluments Clause — perhaps a small boutique hotel hurt by losing Trump’s high-priced clientele.
Here is the full text of the Foreign Emoluments Clause in the Constitution:
No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.