Washington – A federal court will hear a case this week spearheaded by Sen. Richard Blumenthal and joined by dozens of congressional Democrats who claim President Donald Trump has violated the U.S. Constitution by failing to seek and obtain the consent of Congress before accepting benefits from foreign states.
The Founding Fathers, especially Alexander Hamilton, were concerned about foreign corruption in the United States and wrote the Foreign Emoluments Clause into the Constitution. It requires the nation’s presidents to clear any gift or payment from a foreign leader with Congress.
Blumenthal, who plans to attend opening arguments, called the clause “a core tenet of the U.S. Constitution.” Blumenthal, et al. v. Trump maintains the president is violating the emoluments clause by failing to clear foreign gifts with Congress.
The case, filed by the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal think tank, will be heard Thursday by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“The argument on Thursday will put to the test the argument that no one is above the law,” Blumenthal said.
“By entrusting Congress with responsibility for deciding which specific benefits could be received from foreign states, the Founders ensured that federal officeholders would not decide for themselves whether particular emoluments were likely to compromise their own independence or lead them to put personal interest over national interest,” said the original complaint, filed a year ago.
The lawsuit also says the full scope of Trump’s possible violations of the emoluments clause is unknown because the president declines to reveal his foreign business deals.
Blumenthal says they could include entities owned by foreign states paying rent at Trump Tower in New York City and the Chinese government’s granting of 40 trademarks to the Trump Organization.
More recently, Trump’s softening of sanctions against Chinese telecommunications maker ZTE — a company that has been fined in recent years for shipping American goods to embargoed countries, including Iran and North Korea — has been cited by the president’s opponents as an indication of the need to enforce the emoluments clause.
An Asian newspaper reported last week that a real estate development project in Indonesia, containing a number of hotels, homes and a golf course bearing the Trump name, received $500 million in loans from the Chinese government.
The president’s lawyers sought to have the lawsuit dismissed. They told the court that many of the plaintiffs – including Blumenthal – “are sponsors of bills seeking either to declare that the president potentially has violated the clause ….or to withhold consent for the president’s alleged violations of the clause.”
But Sullivan has let the lawsuit move forward.
It gives several examples of former presidents who obeyed the rules of the clause, including Martin Van Buren, who in 1840 was offered two horses, a case of rose oil, five bottles of rose water, a package of cashmere shawls, a Persian rug, a box of pearls, and a sword by the Imam of Muscat.
The suit said that that Van Buren, writing to the Imam, explained that “a fundamental law of the Republic which forbids its servants from accepting presents from foreign States or Princes, precludes me from receiving” the items and that Van Buren then told Congress about the gifts.