Democratic state attorneys general, a chief roadblock to some of President Trump’s most controversial policies, escalated their campaign against him Monday, alleging in a lawsuit that payments by foreign governments to Trump’s businesses violate anti-corruption clauses in the Constitution.
The lawsuit, the first of its kind brought by government entities, marks a turning point for Democratic attorneys general and showcases their increasingly influential role in Washington at a time when their party is largely shut out of power.
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh say in the lawsuit that Trump’s decision to retain ownership of his business empire, and from inside the White House, “calls into question the rule of law and the integrity of the country’s political system.”
At a news conference, Racine and Frosh accused Trump of “flagrantly violating” the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits U.S. officeholders from taking anything of value from foreign leaders.
The conflicts created are so vast, Frosh said, that Americans cannot say with certainty whether Trump’s actions on a given day are taken in the best interest of the country or that of his companies.
“Constituents must know that a president who orders our sons and daughters into harm’s way is not acting out of concern for his own business,” Frosh said. “They must know that we will not enter into a treaty with another nation because our president owns a golf course there.”
In the first months of Trump’s presidency, Democratic attorneys general have banded together and won lawsuits challenging Trump’s bans on travelers from majority-Muslim nations. They have sought to use courts to protect “sanctuary” cities, a target of Trump’s Justice Department, and filed suits to delay rollbacks of environmental regulations sought by Trump’s administration. Some have hired special prosecutors to look into Trump’s business dealings.
The new lawsuit argues that D.C. and Maryland, specifically, are being harmed because the Trump International Hotel near the White House may be drawing business away from the taxpayer-owned Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the District and a facility in Maryland subsidized by taxpayers.
The Kuwaiti Embassy held an event at the Trump hotel, the lawsuit notes, switching its initial booking from the Four Seasons. A public-relations firm hired by Saudi Arabia, which Trump visited on his first trip abroad as president, also has spent over $270,000 on rooms, meals and parking at the president’s D.C. hotel in recent months as the kingdom shuttled U.S. veterans to D.C. to lobby against a measure in Congress that could expose the Saudi government to lawsuits. Turkey held a state-sponsored event there last month. And in April, the ambassador of Georgia stayed at the hotel and tweeted his compliments. Trump has appeared at the hotel and greeted guests repeatedly since becoming president.
In all, the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland names 10 countries it says Trump has profited from as president.
At the White House, press secretary Sean Spicer dismissed the lawsuit, saying it’s “not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations.”
Facing a bank of 20 television cameras, Racine and Frosh left little doubt that they were embracing their role in pushing back against Trump.
“The Republican-controlled Congress…