Maryland Democrats signed onto two separate lawsuits this week arguing that President Donald Trump violated the Constitution’s anti-corruption clauses by accepting payments from foreign officials through the Trump Organization.
The most recent case was filed Wednesday by 196 Democratic members of Congress — the most congressional plaintiffs to ever sue a president.
“It’s impossible to tell whether foreign governments are using [Trump’s] businesses and giving him considerations or trademarks to curry favor,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. said.
The plaintiffs include Sens. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and all seven of Maryland’s Democratic Representatives. The state’s lone Republican, Rep. Andrew Harris, R-Cockeysville, hasn’t joined.
A parallel suit was filed two days earlier by the attorneys general for Maryland and Washington, D.C., which similarly alleges that Trump’s businesses leave him “deeply enmeshed with a legion of foreign and domestic actors.”
At the heart of these cases is the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which says: “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
The plaintiffs argue that Trump’s failure to separate himself from his hotels and other properties means he’s potentially receiving financial benefits from foreign officials and leaders without the consent of Congress.
“The framers of the Constitution wanted a president with undivided loyalty to the people of the United States — not [one] embroiled in business dealings with foreign governments,” Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Takoma Park, said.
Congress has previously spoken on the potential legal issues resulting from Trump’s businesses.
Cardin, Van Hollen and other senators introduced several resolutions — one in November and one in January — urging the president to divest his interest in his business holdings and clarifying that failure to do so could violate the Emoluments Clause.
Trump did not respond to the actions.
Cardin also co-sponsored the Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act of 2017, introduced in January, which similarly codified failure to divest as a Constitutional violation.
Past presidents have voluntarily used blind trusts to separate themselves from their holdings, preventing conflicts of interest.
“Up until Trump, this was a well-accepted part of the political and Constitutional fabric,” Raskin said. “And now, like so many things, Trump has ripped it to shreds.”
The clause, though, has never been tested in court.
“We’re in uncharted waters, and we don’t know how the president will respond,” Cardin said.
Plaintiffs in these cases must establish their legal standing to sue by proving injury from the foreign entanglements.
In the congressional case, this comes from the clause itself, which gives Congress the power to oversee the president’s acceptance of such gifts.
By bypassing Congressional approval, Trump has stripped the legislators of their right to decide which benefits are appropriate.
The attorneys general, in their own case, argue their states have been injured by the president’s continued involvement in his Washington, D.C., hotel, which they argue has drawn business from foreign officials and leaders seeking favor with the president. In the process, it has hurt business at other hotels and convention centers in the district and Maryland.
Another case was filed in January by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for alleged violations of the emoluments clause.
The Justice Department stated June 9 that it would move to dismiss the case, stating the nonprofit watchdog group can’t prove injury.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to the attorneys general’s case, saying it’s “not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations,” according to the Washington Post.
Raskin dismissed this argument. “The motivation behind people bringing a suit is completely irrelevant to the merits of the suit,” he said.
Raskin said he expects the Trump administration to “do everything in their power to avoid any discovery and fact-finding.”
Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns has made the contours of Trump’s business proceedings and any benefits from foreign powers difficult to ascertain, the congressional suit says.
“I think it’s remarkable and very upsetting that the president has put us in this position,” Cardin said. “He’s put himself ahead of the office of the president, and that’s wrong to our country.”