Watchdog group to sue Trump for allegedly violating Constitution

Last Updated Jan 23, 2017 4:18 AM EST

WASHINGTON -- A legal watchdog group says it will file a lawsuit alleging President Trump is violating the Constitution by allowing his businesses to accept payments from foreign governments.

The liberal-funded Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) says it plans to file the suit in the Southern District of New York Monday.

The group says he is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause. It prohibits federal office holders from receiving anything of value from foreign governments without the approval of Congress. CREW says that, because Mr. Trump didn’t divest his businesses, he is now getting gifts from foreign governments via guests and events at his hotels, leases in his buildings and real estate deals abroad.

The group will seek a court order barring Mr. Trump from accepting such payments, Deepak Gupta, one of the lawyers working on the case, told the Reuters news agency.

In a statement, CREW pointed out that Mr. Trump does business with countries such as China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines. “When Trump the president sits down to negotiate trade deals with these countries, the American people will have no way of knowing whether he will also be thinking about the profits of Trump the businessman,” the group said.

“We did not want to get to this point. It was our hope that President Trump would take the necessary steps to avoid violating the Constitution before he took office,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in the statement. “He did not. His constitutional violations are immediate and serious, so we were forced to take legal action.”

“President Trump has made his slogan ‘America First,”’ Bookbinder continued. “So you would think he would want to strictly follow the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, since it was written to ensure our government officials are thinking of Americans first, and not foreign governments.”

White House Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks directed inquiries from The Associated Press to Trump attorney Sheri Dillon.

Hicks said in an email, “She was very clear on this issue two weeks ago and nothing has changed; the president has no conflicts.”

“The case is part of a wave of litigation expected to be filed against Trump by liberal advocacy groups,” Reuters says.

Gupta told Reuters plaintiffs’ lawyers will include a former ethics attorney in Republican President George W. Bush’s White House, Richard Painter.

Word of the suit was first reported by The New York Times.

Eric Trump, the president’s son and an executive vice president of the Trump Organization, told the newspaper the company has gone beyond what the law requires to avoid any possible conflicts of interest, such as deciding to give any profits from Trump-owned hotels that come from foreign government guests to the U.S. Treasury. “This is purely harassment for political gain,” Trump told

the Times.