The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia on Monday filed a lawsuit claiming that government payments to U.S. President Donald Trump‘s businesses violate the U.S. Constitution.
Payments to the president’s enterprises from foreign and domestic governments through his hospitality empire draw business away from Maryland and D.C. venues and put local governments under pressure to give Trump-owned businesses special treatment, according to the complaint.
Foreign and domestic government payments to Trump’s businesses were the target of a similar lawsuit brought in January by plaintiffs including an ethics nonprofit group, and Democratic lawmakers have blasted them as potential corrupting influences on Trump.
The Trump Organization has said it will donate profits from customers representing foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury but will not require the customers to identify themselves.
The case by the two Democratic attorneys general is seen standing a better chance in court as the first government action over allegations that Trump, a Republican, violated the Constitution’s so-called emoluments clauses.
Democratic attorneys general have taken a lead role in challenging Trump policies, successfully blocking executive orders restricting travel from some Muslim-majority countries.
The Maryland and D.C. attorneys general will seek an order in U.S. district court in Maryland preventing Trump from continuing to receive government payments beyond his salary.
The Justice Department declined to comment. White House officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump’s ownership in hundreds of businesses not only financially hurts Maryland and D.C. but also violates “emoluments” clauses in the Constitution that bar the president from accepting gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval as well as from domestic governments under any circumstances, according to the attorneys’ general complaint.
While Trump turned over management of the umbrella Trump Organization in January to a trust controlled by his two elder sons, he still owns his businesses, including the Trump International Hotel in Washington, and can draw revenue from them at any time.
Maryland and D.C. are presented with an “intolerable dilemma” when Trump asks them to grant his businesses land-use permissions or favors, the attorneys general allege.
If the court does not grant the requests, the complaint says, they could be “susceptible to injury resulting from budgetary decisions that are subject to the corruption influence of emoluments.”
The Justice Department on Friday argued in the other emoluments lawsuit filed in January that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to sue because they cannot allege enough specific harm caused by Trump’s businesses. The government also said Trump hotel revenue does not fit the definition of an improper payment under the Constitution.
Payments to Trump’s hotels do not qualify as a violation of the emoluments clause, which is intended to cover personal services performed by the president, the government said.
— Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco and Julia Harte in Washington; Editing by Michael Perry and Jeffrey Benkoe