Attorneys general from the District of Columbia and Maryland filed suit Monday against President Donald Trump, alleging that Trump’s ongoing ownership of his real estate empire violates constitutional provisions that prohibit the president of the United States from receiving money from both American states and foreign governments.
“President Trump’s continued ownership interest in a global business empire, which renders him deeply enmeshed with a legion of foreign and domestic government actors, violates the Constitution,” the complaint reads.
Examples of alleged violations of the Emoluments Clause include, according to the plaintiffs, “leases of Trump properties held by foreign-government-owned entities; purchase and ownership of condominiums in Trump properties by foreign governments or foreign government controlled entities; [and] other property interests or business dealings tied to foreign governments.”
The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland, is the third such lawsuit against Trump, arguing that the president is violating key parts of the Constitution designed to ensure that the country’s leader is not beholden to foreign interests.
A suit filed by a nonprofit watchdog group in January, and another filed by a group of restaurants in March, have both run into trouble over the question of standing ― that is, the question of whether the plaintiff has actually been harmed by what the defendant is doing.
But there’s another angle to what the attorneys general may hope to accomplish with the latest lawsuit.
If the case is allowed to proceed, one of the first things the state attorneys general plan to do is ask a federal judge to force Trump to turn over his tax returns, so they can see just how much of his real estate empire is dependent upon foreign government business.
Trump has refused to release his tax returns to date, breaking with decades of precedent set by previous U.S. presidential nominees.
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to the suit. However, in a response Friday to a similar suit, the Trump administration argued that the money flowing to Trump’s businesses from foreign governments does not violate the Constitution because it’s in the form of payments for goods and services, rather than straight-out gifts.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer echoed the administration’s line on Monday, and accused the attorneys general who filed the suit, both Democrats, of being motivated by partisan politics. Going forward, “we’ll continue to move to dismiss this case in the normal course of business,” he said.
This story has been updated to include Spicer’s comments.