Trump is violating the so-called emoluments clause in the Constitution that prohibits him from receiving money from diplomats for stays at his hotels or foreign governments for leases of office space in his buildings, according to the suit. The language in the clause is disputed by some legal scholars, setting the stage for a court fight with the White House.
White House Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks says that “the president has no conflicts,” and referred to arguments made by Trump lawyer Sheri Dillon at the president’s news conference earlier this month.
Dillon says the framers did not intend for the Constitution prohibition to apply to fair-value exchanges, such as paying for a hotel room or venue space at a hotel.
“No one would have thought the Constitution was written that paying your hotel bill was an emolument,” Dillon said at a news conference earlier this month.
The liberal-funded watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said they planned to file the lawsuit in the Southern District of New York.
CREW faces several legal hurdles, including making the case that it even has standing to bring the lawsuit.
“We have never had a president who has in a significant way accepted foreign payments.” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “There are a lot of issues that have to be litigated for the first time.”
Bookbinder said his group will argue that president’s violation has forced his organization to divert all it is resources to this fight rather than other issues, and therefore is harming it.
In his news conference, Trump said that he would hand over control of his company to his two adult sons. He announced several other measures in an attempt to mollify critics who contend that his financial interest as head of a global real estate company could conflict with his pursuit of the public good. He also vowed, for instance, that his company would strike no more deals abroad.
Trump also pledged to donate any profits from foreign government using his hotels to the U.S. Treasury.
Trump has repeatedly said he is going beyond what is required of him as president to do, but his moves have been widely panned by government ethics lawyers as insufficient.
CREW is being represented in the lawsuit by two former White House chief ethics lawyers: Norman Eisen, who advised Barack Obama, and Richard Painter, who worked under George W. Bush. The two have been pushing Trump to divest from his business to avoid what they believe are unprecedented conflicts that will violate the Constitution.
Eisen and Painter are joined in the CREW lawsuit by Constitutional law scholars Erwin Chemerinsky, Laurence H. Tribe, Zephyr Teachout, and Deepak Gupta of the law firm Gupta Wessler.