If you thought you were safe from ever hearing the word “emoluments” again, you were mistaken. The attorneys general of both Maryand and the District of Columbia filed suit this morning in a Maryland district court against President Donald Trump for violating the foreign emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The emoluments clause, you may remember from the flurry of think-pieces churned out in the wake of Trump’s surprise election, “limits payments to U.S. officials from foreign government sources.” From Politico:
The suit focuses on the president’s continued ownership of his family’s business empire, control of which Trump said has been handed over to his two adult sons. But far from the blind trust standard adopted by past presidents, Trump continues to receive some information about the Trump organization, including profit reports, from his sons.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh are also seeking to force Trump to turn over his tax returns that he has adamantly refused to release.
This comes on the heels of a Department of Justice request Friday that a court dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) and businesses that have joined a lawsuit alleging Trump has violated the same emoluments clause.
The DOJ request read in part:
“[T]he Emoluments Clauses apply only to the receipt of compensation for personal services and to the receipt of honors and gifts based on official position. They do not prohibit any company in which the President has any financial interest from doing business with any foreign, federal, or state instrumentality,” the court doc said.
Soon after he took office, Trump was targeted with the lawsuit, which claimed he was in violation of a constitutional clause that bars office holders from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
Oddly enough, Racine, at a press conference Monday said, “Never in the history of this country have we had a president with these kinds of extensive business entanglements.”
But the DOJ request to the court apparently pointed out the business ventures of past presidents as far back as George Washington and cabinet officials throughout the history of the U.S.
Oh, and lawyers from CREW will be helping the attorneys general in their lawsuit agains the president by serving as outside counsel.
While the lawsuit alleging emoluments violations may be hard to sell given the precedent set by other presidents, Trump has refused to completely divest himself of his various business interests, which has ethics and legal experts convicting him on the mere potential for conflict.
That’s a little unfair but, as usual, the President hasn’t helped himself here by dismissively saying, basically, he could legally run his businesses and government at the same time. So he can go ahead and expect the pressure to be applied indefinitely. If they can’t make the emoluments violation work for them, it will be something else. The theory, presumably, is if they keep making contact with the ball, one day something will get through a fielders glove.