Samuel Corum | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Donald Trump (C) cuts the ribbon with his son, Eric Trump (L), and wife, Melania Trump (R), during opening ceremony for the Trump International Hotel, Old Post Office, in Washington, USA on October 26, 2016.
President Donald Trump is being accused of violating a part of the U.S. Constitution that the founders put in place to curb corruption.
The attorneys general for the District of Columbia and Maryland filed a lawsuit making those claims on Monday. They accuse Trump of improperly accepting payments from foreign governments.
Their argument is that Trump — who kept ownership of his businesses when he became president of the United States — is violating the so-called emoluments clauses of the Constitution.
“It’s unprecedented that the American people must question day after day whether decisions are made or actions are taken to benefit the United States or to benefit President Trump,” said Democratic Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh at a news conference.
The foreign emoluments clause was written to ensure that U.S. government officials would not be corrupted by favors or gifts from foreign governments. Here is the text of that clause in Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, 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.
Trump’s election immediately created concerns that he could use the office to drive more business to his companies. When he took office, he moved his business interests into a trust managed by his sons, saying that this curbed conflicts of interest.
But the president retained actual ownership of the companies, meaning that he still makes money from them. Foreign governments — including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Georgia — have bought rooms or held events at Trump’s D.C. hotel since he took office. The Embassy of Kuwait even switched an earlier booking at the Four Seasons to the Trump hotel, according to The Washington Post.
“We know that foreign governments are spending money there in order to curry favor with the president of the United States,” D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said.
Past presidents have traditionally sold their holdings or put them into “blind” trusts run by a third party. For example, before he took office, President Jimmy Carter gave his agricultural holdings to an independent trustee. Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton put investments into blind trusts.