The Justice Department argued Friday that President Donald Trump isn’t violating the US Constitution by accepting payments from foreign governments without congressional approval at his litany of Trump Organization businesses, hoping to have a lawsuit claiming otherwise thrown out in federal court.
The government claimed that if the Emoluments Clause — a section of the Constitution that bars members of the government from receiving such payments or gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval — is interpreted to mean that Trump cannot accept such payments at his hotels, golf course, and other venues, that reading would mean even the nation’s first president, George Washington, would have been found in violation.
In the Friday filing, the government argued that the clause does not apply to fair-market transactions, such as hotel bills or golf-club fees. The Justice Department is asking a New York judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by the left-leaning watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which sued Trump in late January under the claim that he was already violating that clause of the Constitution.
In its filing, the Justice Department wrote that “neither the text nor the history of the clauses shows that they were intended to reach benefits arising from a president’s private business pursuits having nothing to do with his office or personal service to a foreign power.”
“Were plaintiffs’ interpretation correct, presidents from the very beginning of the Republic, including George Washington, would have received prohibited ‘emoluments,’” the US government filing said. The filing argued CREW did not have the standing to file a suit.
CREW, which has been leading force in combating the administration on ethics-related issues, is additionally seeking access to Trump’s taxes in the suit.
“It’s clear from the government’s response that they don’t believe anyone can go to court to stop the president from systematically violating the constitution,” CREW communications director Jordan Libowitz said in a statement. “We heartily disagree and look forward to our day in court.”
Just prior to taking office, Trump announced he had turned over control of his businesses to his eldest sons, Eric and Donald Jr., in addition to a top Trump Organization official. The Trumps pledged to make no new deals outside of the US as a part of the agreement. But CREW, along with leading Democrats and ethicists, have called for Trump to either place his businesses into a blind trust or liquidate his assets.