President Donald Trump asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by two attorneys general accusing him of profiting from his office, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The suit, filed by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and his District of Columbia counterpart, Karl Racine, contends the president’s continued ownership of his global business empire — including the Trump International Hotel in Washington — enables him to make money from foreign and domestic governments, breaching two Constitutional clauses intended to prevent that.
"Plaintiffs’ broad-brush claims effectively assert that the Constitution disqualifies the President from serving as President while maintaining ownership interests in his commercial businesses," government lawyers argued in court papers Friday.
Justice Department lawyers argued the court can’t consider the case because Maryland and the District of Columbia lack legal standing — that they’re unable to claim injuries from Trump’s alleged Constitutional violation that would allow them to sue. The lawyers also said the Constitution doesn’t address presidents’ private business activities unrelated to their government service.
The filing at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, Maryland — a Washington suburb — is the first formal response to the June lawsuit.
"By accepting benefits from foreign and domestic government actors, he is opening himself up to the type of divided loyalties and undue influence that the Constitution seeks to prevent," Racine said in a statement responding to the court filing. "President Trump must take the same kind of clear, transparent steps that all other presidents in recent history have taken and separate his personal business interests from the official business of the United States.”
The president’s bid for dismissal comes just a day after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, whom Trump nominated earlier this year, delivered a speech to the Fund for American Studies in a crystal chandelier-bedecked conference room at the president’s D.C. hotel, which opened last year.
"Justice Gorsuch speaking to a conservative group in the Trump Hotel, where the president continues to hold a financial stake, is everything that was wrong with his nomination," U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a statement condemning the judge’s appearance.
The Frosh-Racine case is one of a flurry of such suits filed in the first six months of Trump’s presidency as lawmakers and watchdog groups grappled with the implications of a businessman moving directly into the White House without prior government experience and without cutting ties to those businesses.
The attorneys general allege the Constitution’s foreign and domestic emoluments clauses bar presidents from receiving compensation from foreign governments without congressional approval and ban payment from federal and state governments.
“Never before has a president acted with such disregard for this Constitutional prescription,” Racine and Frosh said in their complaint. They’re seeking an order forcing Trump to divest his businesses.
Trump also faces suits from about 200 Democratic members of Congress, led by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. His attorneys asked U.S. judges in Washington and New York to throw out both of those cases earlier this month.
The case is District of Columbia v. Trump, 17-cv-1596, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland (Greenbelt).
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