Maryland, District of Columbia sue Trump over foreign payments

WASHINGTON — Maryland and the District of Columbia announced Monday they are suing President Donald Trump on Monday, alleging he has violated the Constitution by accepting foreign money through his business empire.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Maryland, alleges Trump has violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from accepting payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress, according to the person.

It will cite not just the president’s luxury hotel in Washington, which has been at the center of concerns about conflicts of interest, but his worldwide network of hotels, golf courses and other commercial properties, the person said.

Despite a pledge to isolate himself from the business, Trump held on to his assets and placed them in a trust in his name. That arrangement means that he will benefit from the success of the business, even if he doesn’t reap the rewards until after he leaves office.

The lawsuit argues Maryland the District of Columbia have been harmed by Trump’s ongoing ownership of the business. They plan to cite convention centers and other properties in Maryland and the district that compete with the Trump hotel.

In addition, the lawsuit says states have standing to sue because they entered a contract, the Constitution, that prohibits the president from receiving emoluments.

The lawsuit will say not just hotel payments but tax breaks and permits count as emoluments.

The lawsuit will ask the court for an injunction blocking Trump from accepting foreign money, the person said. It also asks for access to Trump’s personal tax returns as part of the legal process known as discovery, the person said.

A similar lawsuit was filed in January, moments after Trump was inaugurated, by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog organization.

Since then, a nonprofit restaurant group, a New York hotel and restaurant owner, and a woman who books events at hotels in Washington have joined the suit as plantiffs.

On Friday, the Justice Department asked a federal judge to dismiss the case.

The Trump Organization has promised to take steps to address some ethics concerns. It told lawmakers that it would “track and identify” revenues received by its hotels from foreign governments, which it would then donate to the U.S. Treasury.

But in documentation sent to lawmakers this year, the company said it would be “impractical” to track everyone. That means the business will not try to identify people who haven’t specifically identified themselves as representing a foreign government.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, blasted that plan.

He told the company in a letter last month that Trump should either divest his ownership or get permission from Congress to accept all sources of foreign money if it’s too difficult to identify those payments.