U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Detroit, is among a group of Democratic leaders in Congress who will file suit against President Donald Trump today in federal court, accusing him of accepting foreign payments without the legislative consent required by the U.S. Constitution.
Conyers — a civil rights icon who is the longest-serving active member of Congress — joined U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., as the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which is being filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. So far, some 190 Democratic members of Congress have signed on.
“This is the greatest number of congressional plaintiffs on any single lawsuit against our president in the nation’s history,” Conyers said Tuesday. “President Trump has left us with no other option.”
The Democrats say they want a judge to sign an injunction ordering the president to seek Congress’ approval for compensation he has received or for Trump to divest himself of his investments or place them in a blind trust. Michigan’s other four Democrats in the U.S. House — Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, Dan Kildee of Flint Township, Brenda Lawrence of Southfield and Sander Levin of Royal Oak — also have signed on as plaintiffs.
But the Trump administration and the president’s lawyers have argued that despite lawsuits to the contrary — including another filed this week by attorneys general in Maryland and the District of Columbia — that foreign transactions, whether they are trademarks granted to his companies or delegations staying at his hotels, are not illegal gifts or profits but the fair-value cost of doing ordinary business.
“I think the president's interests (in his businesses), as previously discussed, do not violate the emoluments clause,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said this week, discussing another lawsuit. “(It’s) not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations.”
At least one other lawsuit questioning the president's business dealings and whether they violate constitutional protections has been filed as well.
In the Democratic lawmakers’ lawsuit, Conyers and the others argue that they have legal standing to file the lawsuit because Trump’s refusal to request their approval before receiving foreign emoluments — meaning any advantage, gain, compensation or profit — has kept them from meeting their own constitutional duties.
“Although Defendant Donald J. Trump has accepted the privilege of occupying the highest office in the land, he is not obeying the same rules as the federal officers and employees. … He has refused to divest his businesses and instead continues to accept financial payments and other benefits from foreign states through his many business entities without first obtaining the consent of Congress,” the lawsuit says.
Before taking office, Trump placed his interests in a trust, giving up day-to-day operations of his many businesses. But the trust is not a blind one and he turned his business operations over to his sons, an arrangement his critics say is not enough of a protection from conflicts of interest.
In filing the lawsuit, Democrats said Trump’s businesses have operations in at least 20 countries and that since his election he has received what they deem foreign emoluments from the Chinese government granting his businesses dozens of trademarks, foreign governments paying for rooms at his hotel in Washington, D.C., and entities owned by foreign governments becoming tenants at Trump Tower in New York City.
They are filing the lawsuit with the help of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a Washington, D.C., progressive advocacy organization and law firm.
“President Trump was right when he said there was a ‘cloud’ over his presidency,” Conyers said. “But the cloud is the result of the president’s own making. … This course of conduct is keeping Americans in the dark, leaving us to speculate if he’s acting on behalf of the American people or for his own financial benefit.”