Wednesday, June 14, 2017

He Is Too a Crook

U.S. lawmakers sue Trump over foreign state payments to businesses

U.S. President Donald Trump smiles as he walks with his daughter Ivanka across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Tuesday before boarding Marine One helicopter for the trip to nearby Andrews Air Force Base. | AP

The Japan Times  Reuters
More than 190 Democratic lawmakers sued U.S. President Donald Trump in federal court on Wednesday, saying he had accepted funds from foreign governments through his businesses without congressional consent in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The complaint said Trump had not sought congressional approval for any of the payments his hundreds of businesses had received from foreign governments since he took office in January, even though the Constitution requires him to do so.

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment but has said Trump’s business interests do not violate the Constitution. The Trump Organization has said it will donate profits from customers representing foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury but will not require such customers to identify themselves.

At least 30 U.S. senators and 166 representatives are plaintiffs in Wednesday’s lawsuit, representing the largest number of legislators ever to sue a U.S. president, according to two lawmakers who are among the plaintiffs.

The Constitution’s “foreign emoluments” clause bars U.S. officeholders from accepting payments and various other gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval.

“The president’s failure to tell us about these emoluments, to disclose the payments and benefits that he is receiving, mean that we cannot do our job. We cannot consent to what we don’t know,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, one of the lawmakers bringing the lawsuit, in a conference call on Tuesday.

Rep. John Conyers, another plaintiff, added: “President Trump has conflicts of interest in at least 25 countries, and it appears he’s using his presidency to maximize his profits.”

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in recent months by parties including a nonprofit ethics group, a restaurant trade group, and the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

They allege that Trump’s acceptance of payments from foreign and U.S. governments through his hospitality empire puts other hotel and restaurant owners at an unfair disadvantage and creates an incentive for governments to give Trump-owned businesses special treatment.

In a motion to dismiss one such lawsuit on Friday, the Justice Department argued that the plaintiffs had not shown any specific harm to their businesses, and that Trump was only banned from receiving foreign government gifts if they arose from his service as president.

On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said “partisan politics” was behind the lawsuit by the Maryland and District of Columbia officials.

Lawmakers rarely sue the president, so there are few federal court decisions the legislators can cite to prove their legal standing to bring Wednesday’s case, said Leah Litman, an assistant professor specializing in constitutional law at the University of California, Irvine.

“But the constitutional provision they’re suing to enforce gives them a role in how it’s carried out, and that gives them a powerful standing argument,” Litman said.

The lawmakers in Wednesday’s lawsuit will be represented in court by the Constitutional Accountability Center, a public interest law firm in Washington. Each lawmaker is paying a share of the legal fees from personal or campaign accounts.

and from The Guardian... 

Trump is ushering in a kleptocracy. That's why he is being sued

The public will not stand idly by as Trump turns America into a banana republic. Recent lawsuits – the latest by 196 members of Congress – are trying to stop him
 
14 June 2017
 
When Donald Trump announced his Muslim ban on 27 January, pandemonium erupted. Lawyers everywhere raced to airports. Galvanized by Trump’s threat to liberty, they rapidly assembled legal theories and commenced a still unbroken siege of Trump’s bigoted policy. As attorneys stockpiled caffeine, the American people rallied by moonlight outside terminals and federal courts.

The legal response to Trump’s emoluments clause violations has taken shape more slowly. And understandably so: until recently, most Americans had never heard of “emoluments”. Only in the past few months – aided by creative public art and a high-profile lawsuit – has the public come to appreciate that Trump’s conflicts on interest are forbidden by the constitution. 

It’s no coincidence that this arcane issue has newfound salience. We’re now witnessing kleptocracy on an unprecedented scale in America. And there’s barely even a fig leaf of cover. Trump has openly enmeshed his private financial interests in national policy. To say that this creates an appearance of corruption would be far too polite. This is the real deal: sketchy dealings all the way down.
Until recently, a rough bipartisan consensus would have thwarted such open corruption. But it’s now clear that the Republican party has made a deal with the devil, trading integrity (their own and the government’s) for a shot at long-held dreams. Surprising nobody, the devil is already far ahead in this stupid, crooked bargain. 

But if recent events are any sign, the public will not stand idly by as Trump turns our nation into a banana republic.

The opening legal salvo was fired on Trump’s first working day in office. Then, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (Crew) filed suit against the president under the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses. Their case has attracted widespread interest and attention, and has since grown with the addition of new private plaintiffs. 

Just last Friday, Trump’s lawyers at the Department of Justice filed a motion arguing that Crew’s case should be dismissed. That filing has drawn heavy criticism from experts including Leah Litman, Andy Grewal and Marty Lederman. It takes true chutzpah to argue that requiring the president to stop receiving money from enemy foreign powers would “distract [him] from his constitutional responsibility to ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed’”.

Yet perhaps most shocking is a suggestion, near the end of this lengthy brief, that nobody can ever hold the president accountable in court for his unconstitutional conduct. 

As I have explained – and as Richard Primus details at the Take Care blog – this is wrong. The president can’t serve as judge and jury for his own emoluments. While Congress plays a role in reviewing foreign emoluments, that role is limited: the plain text of the constitution provides that foreign emoluments are illegal – and remain illegal – unless Congress says that the president can keep them. 

Where Congress sticks to its usual course of doing absolutely nothing, or is improperly denied even a chance to vote on the question, the president may not keep foreign emoluments. End of story. If he does keep foreign emoluments and thereby causes harm, the injured party may file suit in federal court to remedy the president’s wrongdoing. 

For months now, however, Crew has stood alone in federal court. That isn’t surprising: going from zero to 60 on major constitutional litigation is no easy feat. 

This week, everything changed. The stakes of Trump’s ongoing illegal conduct are now much higher. 

On Monday, Maryland and the District of Columbia filed an emolument suit of their own against the president. This case is exceptionally persuasive. As Washington DC and Maryland explain: “Uncertainty about whether the President is acting in the best interests of the American people, or rather for his own ends or personal enrichment, inflicts lasting harm on our democracy. The Framers of the Constitution foresaw that possibility, and acted to prevent that harm.”

Reading the complaint, I would not want to be a justice department lawyer tasked with defending this case – especially since Trump, at any moment, could burn my credibility with a single tweet. He’s done it before. 

In all likelihood, Trump’s main substantive response will be to argue that Maryland and Washington lack standing to bring their claims against him. But for reasons that Larry Tribe and I discuss at length on Take Care, that would miss the mark.

In short, two theories of standing support this new case. First, Washington and Maryland own businesses that now compete on tilted terrain against the president’s own properties, which Trump has transformed into emolument vortexes. And second, they invoke uniquely sovereign and quasi-sovereign interests that are violated by Trump’s decision to embrace rampant corruption. 

For example, Maryland observes that its entry into the Union depended in part on prohibitions against officials accepting payments from federal, state or foreign governments. If Maryland and Washington are to retain their equal sovereignty within our federal system, and to enjoy the benefits of that order, they should not be forced to feather Trump’s nest. 

The law of state standing is no model of clarity, and these arguments will be challenged. Ironically, many of those attacks may come from conservatives who spent the past eight years obsessively thinking up creative new theories for Texas to sue Barack Obama. As it turns out, those same conservatives now feel differently with their party in control of the federal government, facing lawsuits from progressive states. In the end, though, there is great force to the view that Washington and Maryland are proper plaintiffs to challenge Trump.

On Wednesday, 196 members of Congress opened up still another front in the war for American democracy. Their lawsuit targets Trump’s foreign emoluments, many of which remain cloaked in secrecy that thwarts legislative oversight. As Brianne Gorod explains: “By failing to go to Congress and seek its consent, [Trump] denies members of Congress an opportunity to which they are entitled under the Constitution – to give or withhold their consent to his acceptance of these benefits from foreign states.”

Anti-kleptocracy cases initially got off to a slow start under Trump. But the pace of suits attacking his conflicts will increase as these issues move to the core of our national agenda. With private plaintiffs, states and federal legislators before them, courts will soon have to decide whether to order Trump to follow the constitution. 

For the sake of our democracy, it would be gravely disappointing were judges to abandon the field, allowing Trump’s corruption to sink deeper roots. 

To borrow a warning from Justice William O Douglas: “As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.” 

Disclaimer: Joshua works closely with lawyers involved in both the Crew and Maryland/Washington DC cases challenging Trump’s receipt of emoluments. 

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