The Democrats hammered Trump relentlessly for not releasing his tax returns, but after a copy of a portion of one of his returns showing he earned $150 million in one year and paid 25% in taxes, the tax return story lost all its momentum. Conflicts of interests between his duties to the country as President and his global business interests, however, are going to be the next hammer wielded by the Democrats.
Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), are considering filing a lawsuit against President Trump asserting that Trump’s vast business empire creates conflicts of interests in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
The Emoluments Clause, also known as the Title of Nobility Cause, states “no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
With this clause, the American Founders sought to avoid the formation of a hereditary aristocratic class based on titles, and also to prevent other nations from wielding influence over the American government.
Blumenthal is discussing the possible lawsuit with several of his Democratic colleagues, but they have not yet decided if they are going to move ahead with the plan. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) emphasized to reporters that no decision as to whether to proceed has yet been made, but that they are in fact contemplating the idea.
“I’m yielding to [Blumenthal] on the legal issues. I’m not a constitutional scholar on standing, so if he can figure out a way to do it, I’m rooting for him,” Cardin said.
In slightly veiled language, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) confirmed that Blumenthal “is leading an effort, asking each one of us to contribute an amount of money for a court case.”
Feinstein indicated that a majority of Senate Democrats would be involved in the lawsuit. “We’re looking at that,” Feinstein said in answer to a question at a recent town hall meeting. “The hope is that there will be 41 of us that will be on that court case.” With 41 senators involved, this could shape up to be a major political spectacle.
“I would want to sit down and talk to him about it. It’s something I’m very interested in looking at,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) also said he is in the loop. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) told reporters that Blumenthal “talked to the caucus about that.” It sounds like all the key players in Democratic leadership roles are being tapped to participate in this coming onslaught.
Blumenthal himself said he is “considering courses of action that would enable us to hold [Trump] and others in the administration accountable for their conflicts of interest.” He hopes to “reach conclusions very soon.”
“We’re very seriously considering all the courses of action that may be open to us because these conflicts of interest are so serious … and they affect not only the president very deeply but also others in the administration,” he said. One wonders if Blumenthal has dug up more than what has already been in the news about Trump and his alleged conflicts of interest.
Blumenthal’s spokesman Maria McElwain said “there are ongoing conversations between members of the Senate and constitutional and ethics experts” about what course of action senators could take “if the administration continues to fail to provide transparency and comply with the nation’s laws.”
“Senator Blumenthal is focused on how to make sure that the Trump administration is held accountable for its unprecedented conflicts of interest, and ensure that no one — not even the president — is above the law,” she added.
Before Trump took office, he announced that he would hand over control of his business empire to his two sons Donald Jr. and Eric, as well as place his assets in a trust. His lawyers presented a long list of other avenues that would be taken to prevent conflicts of interests, such as donating profits from foreign guests at Trump’s D.C. hotel to the national treasury. But the Democrats wanted him to sell his entire company, to totally disassociate from his family’s business.
Feinstein said Democrats are making a “concentrated effort to put a program together which would involve non-payment of certain expenses, divestment … and then we’re taking a good look at conflicts of interest and trademarks.”
It was reported in March that the Trump organization won preliminary approval to register 38 trademarks in China for businesses including restaurants and advertising. As President, Trump has come under fierce criticism over this, with critics alleging that the Chinese expedited the approval process of the trademarks for the purpose of gaining Trump’s favor. This trademarks issue will bolster the lawsuit being put together by Senate Democrats.
As the Trump Organization continues to function, the material for these allegations will only pile up. Regardless of whether the President is engaging in any form of unethical behavior, the functioning of his international business will naturally provide events that Democrats can exploit in court against the President.
Other potential problems include the fact that the single largest tenant of Trump Tower is the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which is wholly owned by the Chinese state. Also, Trump’s business partner in the Philippines was named special envoy to the United States by President Rodrigo Duterte.
It’s looking like this lawsuit is going to become a reality, and every potential conflict of interest is going to be dragged out into the light. It may end with Trump having to further distance himself from his company.
This would not be the first time lawmakers have sued a sitting President of the United States. In 2014 Republicans sued Obama for overstepping his executive power having to do with healthcare, and in 2008 Democrats sued President George W. Bush to force White House officials to testify in court about the firing of U.S. attorneys.