A group of constitutional scholars and legal experts, including former White House ethics lawyers, are filing a lawsuit accusing Donald Trump of violating the US constitution by allowing his hotels and other business operations to accept payments from foreign governments.
The legal action, brought by watchdog organisation Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), will seek a court order forbidding Trump from accepting such payments, which it will allege are forbidden by the Constitution’s emoluments clause, The Independent reported on Monday.
“Trump does business with countries like China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, and now that he is President, his company’s acceptance of any benefits from the governments of those countries violates the Constitution,” the CREW said in a statement.
“When Trump the president sits down to negotiate trade deals with these countries, the American people will have no way of knowing whether he will also be thinking about the profits of Trump the businessman.”
The legal action, which will not seek any monetary damages, will ask a federal court in New York to order the President to stop taking payments from foreign government entities, including those from patrons at Trump hotels and golf courses and loans for his office buildings from certain banks controlled by foreign governments.
The watchdog alleges that since Trump refused to divest from his businesses, he is now getting cash and favours from foreign governments through guests and events at his hotels, leases in his buildings, and valuable real estate deals abroad.
The lawyers on the case reportedly include CREW’s board chair and vice-chair Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, the top ethics lawyers for the previous two presidents, as well as Constitutional law scholars Erwin Chemerinsky, Laurence H. Tribe and Zephyr Teachout.
CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said: “We did not want to get to this point. It was our hope that President Trump would take the necessary steps to avoid violating the Constitution before he took office.
“He did not. His constitutional violations are immediate and serious, so we were forced to take legal action.”
“President Trump has made his slogan ‘America First, so you would think he would want to strictly follow the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, since it was written to ensure our government officials are thinking of Americans first, and not foreign governments.”
Earlier this month Trump announced that he would hand control of his company to his two eldest sons, but that he would retain an ownership stake in a trust that holds his business assets while he is President — a deal that watchdogs said will not prevent conflicts of interest.
The billionaire also revealed that while making preparations for office, he was still involved with making decisions for the business, saying he had rejected a $2bn (£1.65bn) development deal in Dubai the previous weekend.