Nearly 200 congressional Democrats announce lawsuit against Trump over foreign payments

PHOTO: President Donald Trump at the White House, May 31, 2017. PlaySusan Walsh/AP Photo
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Nearly 200 Democratic lawmakers have joined to bring a lawsuit against President Donald Trump, alleging he breached a clause of the Constitution that forbids federal officeholders to take foreign payments and gifts.

The congressional lawsuit alleges that Trump through his business interests has been in violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause, which prohibits government officials from accepting foreign gifts or payments without consent from Congress, since he took office in January.

The 196 members of Congress who have thus far joined the complaint — 30 from the Senate and 166 from the House of Representatives — say in the suit that they seek to "obtain relief from the president's continuing violation of the foreign emoluments clause," which they say was included in the Constitution, in part, to prevent foreign influence in government. A copy of the suit was published Tuesday night by the Constitutional Accountability Center, a Washington, D.C., legal organization that is filing on behalf of the congressional plaintiffs.

The suit is set to be filed in U.S. district court on Wednesday.

"Through this measure, the nation's founders invested members of Congress with an important role in preventing the corruption and foreign influence that the founders sought to avoid," the suit reads, referring to the emoluments clause. "President Donald J. Trump has a financial interest in vast business holdings around the world that engage in dealings with foreign governments and receive benefits from those governments."

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. — who helped organize the suit, along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. — said that they gathered the "greatest number of congressional plaintiffs on any lawsuit against a president," according to the Associated Press.

While all the signers so far are Democrats, Blumenthal and Conyers indicated that they will invite their Republican colleagues to join the suit later today.

The lawsuit asks the court to bar Trump and subsequent presidents from "accepting any benefits from foreign states without first obtaining congressional consent."

Trump decided to maintain ownership of his company, the Trump Organization, after becoming president but announced in January that he would hand it over to his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump through a financial trust, in an effort to address concerns of potential conflicts of interest.

The lawsuit, the third of its kind concerning emoluments since Trump became president, comes just a few days after the Democratic attorneys general of Washington, D.C., and Maryland filed a similar suit, which also claims that Trump has been in violation of the Constitution since he took office because his business has accepted payments from foreign governments.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to that suit at a press briefing on Monday afternoon, reiterating the administration's position that Trump is not in violation of the emoluments clause and suggested that the lawsuit was motivated by politics.

"It's not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations behind the suit," Spicer told reporters.

A separate suit — filed earlier this year by government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United Inc. and two individuals — alleges that Trump has been in violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause as well.

The Justice Department last week sought to have that suit dismissed, arguing that none of the plaintiffs suffered an injury that would give them standing to sue, according to papers filed in Manhattan federal court.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.