June 14, 2017

Van Hollen Joins Lawsuit to Hold President Trump Accountable to the Constitution

Today U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-MI), and nearly 200 other Members of Congress to ask the courts to intervene and compel President Trump to comply with the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution -- one of our most critical protections against corruption and foreign influence. This Clause requires all Presidents to first seek and obtain the consent of Congress before accepting any gifts, payments, or benefits from foreign states - something Mr. Trump has failed to do. This lawsuit is separate from the action recently filed by the Attorneys General in Maryland and the District of Columbia, which is working to protect different - but also critical - interests of their state residents.

"No American should have to wonder if President Trump is putting his personal wealth before the interests of our country. But at every turn, we are forced to confront this issue - and we simply don't know the answer," said Senator Van Hollen. "The President could have followed the precedent of every modern President and put his business holdings into a blind trust - he refused. He could have provided the transparency of releasing since tax returns, as the Presidents have done for the last 40 years - again, he refused. As long as Mr. Trump continues to accept benefits from foreign governments and leave this Administration exposed to corruption, Congress has to no choice but to ask the courts to intervene."

President Trump continues to own vast business holdings around the world and is enriched when these businesses receive payments or other benefits from foreign states that could be worth millions. Examples of known foreign emoluments to President Trump include:

• "A lobbying firm working for Saudi Arabia paid for a room at Donald Trump's Washington hotel after Inauguration Day, marking the first publicly known payment on behalf of a foreign government to a Trump property since he became president.... The Jan. 23-26 hotel stay paid by the Saudis raises questions about whether it represents a violation of the foreign emoluments clause." [Politico, 02/09/17]

• "The biggest tenant in New York's Trump Tower has been the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), a state-owned bank whose lease is set to expire in 2019. According to ethics watchdogs, the renewal negotiations could place Trump-who pledged during his campaign to impose tariffs on Chinese imports and label the nation a currency manipulator-in violation of the so-called "emoluments" clause in the Constitution, which prohibits accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments." [Time, 01/10/17]

• "China has granted preliminary approval for 38 new Trump trademarks, paving the way for President Donald Trump and his family to develop a host of branded businesses from hotels to insurance to bodyguard and escort services, public documents show.... Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, said the volume of new approvals raised red flags. 'A routine trademark, patent or copyright from a foreign government is likely not an unconstitutional emolument, but with so many trademarks being granted over such a short time period, the question arises as to whether there is an accommodation in at least some of them,' he said." [AP, 03/08/17]

In addition to the emoluments we know about, there are almost certainly many more that we do not know about. Mr. Trump has never tried to obtain Congress's consent before accepting these benefits. No person is above the Constitution -- not even the President -- but President Trump is blatantly ignoring it. If he continues to refuse to abide by the Constitution, the courts must require him to do so.