Legal Attack on Trump's Business Ties Adds Parties, Claims

  • Ethics group said payments violate Constitution provision
  • Foreign money at president’s hotels, golf courses attacked

A public watchdog group that sued President Donald Trump in January added additional allegations and plaintiffs to bolster its claims that his business dealings violate the Constitution.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, filed a revised complaint Tuesday to add a restaurant association representing 200 restaurants and thousands of workers and a luxury hotel event booker as plaintiffs. CREW claims Trump’s business empire is receiving money from foreign governments without congressional approval.

The new and added claims that Trump’s businesses are benefiting at their expense bolster CREW’s case, which critics said should be dismissed by the judge for lack of standing, or sufficient harm to the group to allow it to sue on its own. CREW also added more claims that the president is receiving business and other benefits from federal and state officials, in violation of a separate Constitutional provision.

"Never before have the people of the United States elected a president with business interests as vast, complicated and secret as those of President Donald J. Trump,” the group said in its amended complaint filed in Manhattan federal court. His “business interests are creating countless conflicts of interest, as well as unprecedented influence by foreign governments,” leading to “numerous” violations of the Constitution, according to the complaint.

In Judgement

CREW is seeking an order from U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams that Trump is in violation of the Constitution’s foreign and domestic emoluments clauses. As part of the suit, CREW seeks access to Trump’s tax returns and other financial records. The group has said Trump should liquidate his business holdings and put the proceeds in a blind trust.

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The deadline for Trump’s lawyers to respond to the suit, which is April 21, will likely be extended with the revised complaint.

In the original complaint, filed on Jan. 23, the first business day after Trump’s inauguration, CREW targeted payments from diplomats and foreign government officials to Trump’s hotels and golf courses. The group also challenged as improper loans on Trump properties held by the government-owned Bank of China Ltd. and other creditors, as well as Trump Tower leases by the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. and the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.

The case was joined by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, an association representing 200 restaurants and 25,000 workers, and Jill Phaneuf, a Washington-based luxury hotel event booker. The added plaintiffs claim Trump’s businesses are unfairly depriving them of business from foreign governments that are now trying to curry favor with the president.

CREW’s new claims have come up in the past three months since the original suit was filed, including China’s granting of trademarks to the president and the federal government’s decision to permit him to continue leasing the site of his Washington hotel despite claims he is in violation of the lease.

Why ‘Emoluments’ Might Mean Headaches for Trump: QuickTake Q&A

CREW originally claimed it had standing to sue because Trump’s alleged conflicts have forced it to spend time and money to investigate and address violations of the law. Critics said that wasn’t enough to keep the case in court. The added parties appear calculated to improve CREW’s position on standing.

While presidents aren’t subject to the ethics laws that apply to most federal office-holders, most lawyers, including Trump’s, say the foreign emoluments clause does apply to him. The domestic emoluments clause expressly refers to presidents.

The case is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Trump, 17-cv-00458, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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