U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), along with 196 fellow Members of Congress, filed 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.
"The Constitution requires the President to obtain Congress' permission to accept private payments and gifts, and President Trump has refused to do so," said Senator Murray. "President Trump's unprecedented business dealings and conflicts of interest make it difficult for him to assure the public that he is acting in the best interest of the country and not merely working for himself or other millionaires, billionaires, and special interests. It is time for our courts to restore this necessary transparency to the White House."
"No one is above the law, not even the President. The foreign payments President Trump's businesses receive are precisely the sort of transactions forbidden in our Constitution to protect us against corruption," said Senator Cantwell.
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.
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."
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.