Conyers sues over foreign payments to Trump businesses

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Detroit is suing President Donald Trump on behalf of more than 190 Democrats in Congress, alleging that payments by foreign governments to Trump’s businesses violate the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The unprecedented lawsuit, led by Conyers and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, will be filed Wednesday morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It brings together at least 166 members of Congress and 30 senators — the largest number ever to sue the president, they said.

The lawmakers argue that congressional approval is required before the president or other government employees accept gifts or payments from foreign states, but that Trump has done so without giving them the opportunity to cast a vote to grant or deny their consent.

The emoluments clause states that no one holding federal office shall “without the consent of Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state.”

“We do this not out of any sense of pleasure or partisanship, but because President Trump has left us with no other option,” said Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

“This legal action is designed to help lift our nation out of this morass of conflicts and restore faith in our government, just as our Founders intended.”

Others joining the lawsuit include Michigan Democratic Reps. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, Sander Levin of Royal Oak, Dan Kildee of Flint Township and Brenda Lawrence of Southfield.

Some scholars have said it’s unclear whether the emoluments clause applies to the president and what constitutes a violation.

Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted that Trump has holdings in more than 20 foreign countries, but has not informed Congress what kinds of payments or benefits he is receiving. When the president took office, his sons Donald Jr. and Eric took over operating the Trump Organization.

As examples, Blumenthal pointed to the recent series of trademark approvals of Trump products by China or the rental payments or management fees paid by foreign governments on real estate owned by the Trump Organization in New York and other cities.

“The framers gave Congress a unique role, right and responsibility. The Constitution gives Congress the job of reviewing and consenting to any benefits, any payments, any advantages that the president receives from foreign governments,” Blumenthal said.

“We have standing that no one else before the courts because the president’s failure to tell us about these emoluments — to disclose the payments and benefits that he’s receiving — means we cannot do our job. We cannot consent to what we don’t know.”

Other emoluments lawsuits also target Trump, including one filed Monday by the Democratic attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

That suit alleges that taxpayer-funded convention centers may be losing business because of the new Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington near the White House.

Asked about that lawsuit, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday he expected the administration would move to dismiss it.

“I think the president’s interests, as previously discussed, do not violate the emoluments clause,” Spicer told reporters. “It’s not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations behind the suit.”

The lawmakers involved in the Conyers lawsuit are represented by the nonprofit Constitutional Accountability Center and will divide the cost of the suit among themselves, paying either with personal or campaign funds, Blumenthal said.

“I am going to invite tomorrow all of our Republican colleagues to join us in this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few do,” Conyers said. “It appears Trump is trying to use the presidency to maximize his profits.”

Blumenthal said the lawsuit would seek Trump’s tax returns, as well as business records and details about agreements such as the license fees for the “Apprentice” television program that Trump continues to receive.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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