A lawsuit was filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia on Monday claiming that government payments to President Donald Trump’s businesses were in violation of the US Constitution. The complainants argued that the payments to the president’s enterprises from foreign and domestic governments through his hospitality empire draw business away from Maryland and DC venues and put local governments under pressure to give Trump-owned businesses special treatment.
Earlier, a similar lawsuit was filed in January against Trump’s businesses over its foreign and domestic government payments by plaintiffs including an ethics nonprofit group. The latest case by the two Democratic attorneys general, however, has a better chance in court.
Democratic attorneys general have taken a lead role in challenging Trump policies, successfully blocking executive orders restricting travel from some Muslim-majority countries.
The attorneys general will seek an order in US district court in Maryland preventing Trump from continuing to receive government payments beyond his salary. There has been no official response to the complaint by the US government so far.
Trump’s ownership in hundreds of businesses not only financially hurts Maryland and DC but also violates “emoluments” clauses in the Constitution that bar the president from accepting gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval as well as from domestic governments under any circumstances, according to the attorneys’ general complaint.
While Trump turned over management of the umbrella Trump Organization in January to a trust controlled by his two elder sons, he still owns his businesses, including the Trump International Hotel in Washington, and can draw revenue from them at any time.
Maryland and D.C. are presented with an “intolerable dilemma” when Trump asks them to grant his businesses land-use permissions or favors, the attorneys general allege.
If the court does not grant the requests, the complaint says, they could be “susceptible to injury resulting from budgetary decisions that are subject to the corruption influence of emoluments.”
The Justice Department on Friday argued in the other emoluments lawsuit filed in January that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to sue because they cannot allege enough specific harm caused by Trump’s businesses. The government also said Trump hotel revenue does not fit the definition of an improper payment under the Constitution. Payments to Trump’s hotels do not qualify as a violation of the emoluments clause, which is intended to cover personal services performed by the president, the government said.
(With inputs from Reuters)