June 20, 2017

Duckworth, Durbin Join Lawsuit Against Trump for Foreign Conflicts of Interest


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined 194 Members of Congress in filing a lawsuit against President Donald Trump alleging that he has violated the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, one of its most important anti-corruption provisions. 

The suit, filed in federal district court in the District of Columbia, alleges that the President has received numerous benefits from foreign states without first seeking or obtaining congressional approval, as the Constitution clearly requires.  These benefits include:

  • Payments from foreign governments housing their officials in rooms or hosting events at Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel after Inauguration Day;
  • Entities owned by foreign states paying rent at Trump Tower and Trump World Tower in New York City;
  • Acceptance of benefits from foreign governments in connection with Trump business ventures around the world, including permits and exemptions; and
  • The Chinese government granting thirty-eight trademarks to the Trump Organization.

In addition to these known benefits, the suit notes that because the President has neither disclosed nor sought Congress’s consent for his acceptance of emoluments, there may be other payments and benefits from foreign states that have not yet been made public.

From his singular refusal to disclose his income tax returns to his failure to divest his global web of business holdings to the persistent conflicts of interest which haunt his appointments, President Trump has defied well-established standards of disclosure and propriety,” said Durbin. “The Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits a President from accepting gifts, benefits, or payments from foreign states without first obtaining the consent of Congress, is a clear standard of integrity which cannot be ignored or dismissed with a tweet. I join my colleagues in calling on our Courts to hold this President and every President to the Constitutional prohibition of compromising our national interests with economic ties to foreign interests.”

“President Trump’s willful violations of the Constitution’s anti-corruption provisions are stunning. By refusing to divest from his business interests or place his assets in a blind trust, the President has made it possible for him to profit from his position in government,” said Duckworth. “It should never be a question whether the President of the United States is doing what’s best for himself or what’s best for the American people. With this lawsuit, we are simply asking the Courts to remind President Trump that the oath he swore to the Constitution comes before his own business interests.”

The Foreign Emoluments Clause, located in Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution, provides that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], 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.”  The word emolument was defined at the time of the founding to include any “profit,” “advantage,” “benefit,” or “comfort.” The Founding Fathers used the term emolument when referring to “the consequences of ordinary business dealings.” Put more simply, an emolument is any payment, gift, or benefit – anything from a small trinket to payment rendered for services.  

 The language prohibits any federal officeholder—including the President—from accepting any benefits or advantages from foreign states without the consent of Congress. These benefits also include any compensation for services rendered in a private capacity, such as when a foreign government throws a party at a hotel owned by a federal official.  The Founding Fathers included the Foreign Emoluments Clause in the Constitution because of their serious concerns with foreign powers interfering in our nation’s affairs and attempting to subvert the loyalty of government officials. 

The suit asks the court to declare that President Trump is in violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause because of his acceptance of foreign emoluments without having sought and received the consent of Congress.  The suit also seeks injunctive relief ordering the President not to accept any present or emolument from a foreign state without obtaining Congress’ consent, thus giving Congress the opportunity to vote on a case-by-case basis whether to give their consent, as the Constitution requires.