WASHINGTON, DC, June 14, 2017 – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) led a group of 196 Members of Congress in filing a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. President Trump’s ongoing failure to obtain the consent of Congress before accepting payments, benefits, or gifts from foreign states violates one of the Constitution’s critical anti-corruption provisions: the Foreign Emoluments Clause.
The Foreign Emoluments Clause requires that all elected officials, including the president, seek the “consent of the Congress” before receiving any gifts, payments, or benefits from foreign governments. The Constitution’s Framers included such a requirement to protect against foreign influence on U.S. officials, and to ensure that those officials act in the national interest, instead of their own.
“We are joining in this action to prevent Donald Trump from thumbing his nose at the Constitution and the American people. The Constitution clearly states that no elected official – including the President – may receive gifts, payments, or benefits from foreign governments without disclosing them to Congress and seeking our consent,” Senator Blumenthal said. “The immense magnitude of President Trump’s vast business empire is no excuse for his disregard of the Constitution and disrespect for the American people.”
“For generations,” Representative Conyers said, “presidents of both parties have complied with the Foreign Emoluments Clause by either divesting their business and financial holdings, or coming to Congress to seek approval prior to receiving any foreign government payment or other benefits. Our current President has done neither. This course of conduct is keeping Americans in the dark – leaving us to speculate if he’s acting on behalf of the American people or for his own financial benefit. Today’s legal action is designed to help lift our Nation out of this morass of conflicts and restore faith in our government, just as the founders intended.”
Because President Trump has refused to disclose his business dealings abroad, the full scope of his potential Constitutional violations is unknown. Independent reporting has shown that President Trump has received the following foreign emoluments during his presidency among others:
• 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 World Tower in New York City; and
• The Chinese government granting thirty-eight trademarks to the Trump Organization.
While President Trump continues to accept benefits from foreign governments, Congress has no choice but to seek a remedy through the courts.
“If courts rule otherwise,” added Elizabeth Wydra, President of Constitutional Accountability Center, the public interest organization whose attorneys are representing Members of Congress in this case, “President Trump would be permitted to make government decisions subject to a glaring conflict of interest. The prospect that a president’s decisions would be influenced by foreign manipulation or his personal wealth is exactly why the nation’s Founders adopted the Foreign Emoluments Clause.”
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The Constitution does not require Congress to seek information about any benefits the President may be receiving from other countries – rather, the President must come to Congress to disclose any foreign gifts or payments and to obtain permission before accepting them. Nonetheless, Members of the Senate and the House have made repeated attempts to obtain information about President Trump’s business holdings and potential conflicts of interest. These and similar inquiries to Republican Congressional leadership have gone unanswered.
The full list of plaintiffs who have joined this case is available here. A Congressional Research Service analysis of suits by members of Congress found no larger action.
Complaint, Blumenthal, Conyers, et al., vs. Trump: http://theusconstitution.org/sites/default/files/Emoluments-Trump-Congress-CAC-Complaint.pdf
Why Members of Congress have standing: http://theusconstitution.org/sites/default/files/Standing-for-Blumenthal-Conyers-v-Trump.pdf
Key letters from Members of Congress seeking information about President Trump’s foreign emoluments: http://theusconstitution.org/sites/default/files/Congressional-Requests-for-Conflicts-of-Interest.pdf