Ethics watchdog files lawsuit against President Trump

The first major ethics lawsuit involving President Donald Trump has been filed by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Many ethics experts have long expressed concerns at Trump’s vast and murky business ties to foreign countries, and this lawsuit is expected to be one of many during the Trump administration’s tenure.

The lawsuit was filed in a federal New York court last week, and centers around the Emoluments Clause in Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution prohibiting the president from accepting gifts from foreign governments.

“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.”

The watchdog is attempting to make the argument that President Trump is in violation of the clause, and thus the Constitution, because his businesses accept vast amounts of money and make deals with foreign governments. The issue is that there will be numerous conflict of interests if Trump both governs the United States and runs his expansive business enterprise on the side. The lawsuit spells out the concerns:

“As the Framers were aware, private financial interests can subtly sway even the most virtuous leaders,” the lawsuit reads. “…entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious threat to the Republic.”

Although most experts agree that there is an ethical problem with Trump running both the country and his businesses, many legal scholars are skeptical that this lawsuit will make it pass the initial scrutiny needed to let it proceed. One of the potential hangups is that money from foreign governments go to the Trump business as a whole, and not to Trump personally.

“There is no connection between the payment and performance of services by the president personally,” said Andy Grewal, a law professor at the University of Iowa. “It would be a lot of fun to watch, but I imagine it will be kicked out.”

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics also filed a complaint Friday with the General Services Administration demanding that the agency cancel its lease with Trump for the Old Post Office in Washington, which the former New York businessman transformed into a hotel.

Trump, unsurprisingly, said in the Oval Office Monday that the lawsuit is “without merit, totally without merit.”  Although this specific suit is likely to be short lived, the Trump administration can bet on many more like it popping up as his White House term proceeds.


[Washington Post] [AP] [New York Times] [Photo courtesy Kevin Lamarque/Reuters via Toronto Star]