WASHINGTON — The attorneys general in the nation's capital and Maryland filed a lawsuit Monday against President Trump, arguing he is violating anti-corruption clauses in the Constitution by allowing his businesses to accept payments from foreign government and other government entities.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Washington Attorney General Karl Racine, both Democrats, said they needed to act because Trump is "flagrantly violating" the Constitution.
The legal action centers on Trump's decision to retain ownership of his real-estate and branding empire. The lawsuit alleges his continued ownership has left the president "deeply enmeshed with a legion of foreign and domestic actors" and violates the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which bars federal officials from accepting payments from foreign interests without congressional approval.
"Never in the history of this country have we had a president with these kinds of extensive business entanglements or a president who refused to adequately distance themselves from their holdings," Racine told reporters at a new conference Monday afternoon.
Racine said he and Frosh decided to act because the Republican-controlled Congress has "wholly failed to fulfill its responsibility of serving as a check and balance on the president."
Trump's lawyers maintain that market-rate payments for goods and services at Trump's hotels, golf courses and other businesses are not "emoluments" as defined by the Constitution.
Lindsay Jancek of the Republican National Committee called the lawsuit "absurd."
"The actions of the attorneys general represent the kind of partisan grandstanding voters across the country have come to despise," Jancek said in a statement. "The American people elected President Trump to lead this country, and it is time Democrats end their efforts to de-legitimize his presidency.”
Monday's lawsuit, the first by a government body against Trump over the emoluments provision, comes on the heels of other lawsuits, challenging Trump's decision to financially benefit from his enterprises while serving in the White House. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, has an emoluments lawsuit pending against Trump in Manhattan, and the group's lawyers are serving as unpaid outside counsel in the case brought by Frosh and Racine.
A small wine bar in the nation's capital also has filed a separate suit, claiming Trump's Washington hotel and restaurant, located in a federally owned building not far from the White House, pose unfair competition.
The efforts face big challenges. The anti-corruption clause had not been fully tested in court. Racine and Frosh on Monday said they had legal standing to pursue the case on behalf of the residents they represent and do not have to demonstrate that Maryland or Washington businesses suffered any specific financial harm from Trump's actions.
Trump's adults sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., and a longtime corporate executive, now oversee the Trump businesses.
They pledged to pursue no new foreign deals during Trump's presidency but have traveled the globe — from Dubai to the Dominican Republic — to work on projects conceived before their father took office. They also have planned new businesses in the United States. Last week, the Trump Organization, for instance, announced a new mid-scale hotel brand.
Newly filed lobbying disclosures show the Saudi government recently spent about $270,000 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington as part of a larger lobbying campaign to ease a U.S. terrorism law. A Trump official said the company would donate profits from the Saudi payments to the U.S. Treasury.