Ethics watchdog files lawsuit against Trump over foreign business dealings


On Friday, Shareblue reported on the countdown to impeachment due to Donald Trump’s violation of the Constitution on Day One of his presidency. And as of this morning, the countdown reached zero, as ethics lawyers have filed a lawsuit against Trump over his financial entanglements with foreign business interests.

As the inauguration ceremonies were underway on Friday, I detailed the compelling case for the impeachment of President Donald Trump as of the moment he took the oath of office. Because of his vast foreign dealings, holdings, and entanglements, and his refusal to adequately divest or separate himself from his businesses and assets before assuming the office of the presidency, he has set the stage for his own downfall, due to the constitutional violations created by these widespread conflicts of interest.

And as of 9:00 a.m. Monday morning, theory has become reality: A stellar team of some of the country’s leading constitutional law scholars and practitioners have come together to represent Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in a lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York. CREW initiated the suit, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Donald J. Trump, to halt the president’s serious violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution created by the illegal payments he receives from foreign governments.

Laurence H. Tribe, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, and a member of the legal team behind the lawsuit, remarked:

I am enormously proud to be filing this lawsuit to stop President Trump from putting his continuing pursuit of personal wealth, and his willingness to serve the foreign interests that feed that wealth, ahead of the interests and needs of American citizens and watchdog organizations like CREW. It is already clear that nothing short of judicial force will end Trump's flagrant disregard of the core barrier the Constitution's Framers erected against presidential decisions driven by personal greed or by loyalty purchased from the President by the patronage of foreign powers.

The factual and legal basis for this action is not frivolous. The risk to the nation from the president’s foreign dealings may not have been sufficient to dissuade his supporters from electing him, but the Constitution provides a firewall to ensure that no American, not even the president, is above the law. As presented in the complaint from this new legal action:

Never before have the people of the United States elected a President with business interests as vast, complicated, and secret as those of Donald J. Trump. Now that he has been sworn into office as the 45th President of the United States, those business interests are creating countless conflicts of interest, as well as unprecedented influence by foreign governments, and have resulted and will further result in numerous violations of Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, the ‘Foreign Emoluments Clause.’

These violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause pose a grave threat to the United States and its citizens. As the Framers were aware, private financial interests can subtly sway even the most virtuous leaders, and entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious threat to the Republic. The Foreign Emoluments Clause was forged of the Framers’ hard-won wisdom. It is no relic of a bygone era, but rather an expression of insight into the nature of the human condition and the preconditions of self- governance. And applied to Donald J. Trump’s diverse dealings, the text and purpose of the Foreign Emoluments Clause speak as one: this cannot be allowed.

Trump has had ample opportunity to avoid exposure to legal challenge. But he has consistently refused to take any meaningful actions to quell the controversies of his foreign dealings or the suspicions generated by his secrecy regarding his holdings and activities.

He still refuses to disclose his tax returns, which could help to exonerate him if they reflect that his private financial interests do not pose a threat to the interests of the American people. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway bluntly stated this weekend, regarding a petition demanding Trump release the information, that "he’s not going to release his tax returns."

Similarly, he has had ample opportunity to either divest his assets or create a legitimate blind trust to separate his private dealings from his responsibilities and obligations as president. However, he chose to create a "half-blind trust," managed by his children, with whom he has constant contact and who have even sat in on many meetings with foreign and business leaders. As I wrote in December:

A “half-blind” trust that either involves family members or enables the President to know how his assets are being managed, or both, is no safeguard against conflicts of interest. In light of the fact that the president-elect will be in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, an impeachable offense, as soon as he is sworn into office, if he does not do something to address his rampant conflicts of interest, then full divestment of the sort demanded by Congressional Democrats is the only viable course of action.

When Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency over a year and a half ago, he was ostensibly volunteering to adhere to all of the traditions and customs which go along with a presidential campaign, and with the presidency itself. If protecting his private interests and the secrecy of those interests were of such paramount importance, he should have withdrawn from the race — or indeed never launched his campaign in the first place.

By demanding to have it both ways, and placing his private interests above his public duties, Trump will now have to answer to the federal courts, and the American people.