Lawsuit: Donald Trump needs to stop accepting payments from foreign leaders

The president has allegedly violated the Constitution from the moment he accepted foreign payments while in office

Published January 23, 2017 12:40PM (EST)

 (Getty/Zach Gibson)
(Getty/Zach Gibson)

President Donald Trump is entering the White House amidst a blurry of lawsuits, thanks to the widespread belief among legal experts that he violated federal law the moment he accepted foreign money for one of his businesses while in office.

"The framers of the Constitution were students of history," Deepak Gupta, a lawyer behind one of the lawsuits, told The New York Times. "And they understood that one way a republic could fail is if foreign powers could corrupt our elected leaders."

Gupta has joined a number of other prestigious lawyers in a joint suit against President Trump that they hope will convince a federal court in New York to order him to stop accepting payments from foreign government entities, including patrons at his hotels, golf courses, and office buildings and business arrangements with foreign institutions like banks and tourism offices. The plaintiffs include Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard University; Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, who served as ethics lawyers for Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, respectively; Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California, Irvine law school; and Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University who has studied and written about the Emoluments Clause for almost a decade.

"This is purely harassment for political gain, and, frankly, I find it very, very sad," said Eric Trump, the president's son and an executive vice president at the Trump Organization. His argument was echoed by one of the president's lawyers, Sheri A. Dillon, who said at a news conference earlier this month that "no one would have thought when the Constitution was written that paying your hotel bill was an emolument."

The main challenge facing the lawsuit is that its plaintiffs need to demonstrate that it would suffer direct and concrete injury as a result of the wrongs discussed in the suit. While other organizations have won public interest lawsuits on the grounds that the improper activities of the defendants prevented them from engaging in other necessary activities, the challenge for CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) will still have a tough time making that same case for themselves. Nevertheless, even if CREW's case is thrown out, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is also planning on suing President Trump by finding a competing hotel that could claim to have been damaged by him violating the emoluments clause to benefit his private hotels.

Even before taking office, Trump's numerous conflicts of interest have raised eyebrows and concerns. These range from allegedly doing business with officials in other governments to allegedly drumming up business for his new hotel in Washington.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Conflict Of Interest Conflicts Of Interest Donald Trump Emoluments Clause