Apr 28, 2017 by

Democrats exploring lawsuit against Trump

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Senate Democrats are exploring a lawsuit against President Trump on the grounds that his vast business empire has created conflicts of interest that violate the Constitution.

The effort is being led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who has had preliminary discussions with several senators about the idea.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) confirmed that Blumenthal had pitched the idea of a lawsuit but stressed that no decision has been made.

“I’m yielding to him on the legal issues. I’m not a constitutional scholar on standing, so if he can figure out a way to do it, I’m rooting for him,” he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said her committee colleague Blumenthal “is leading an effort, asking each one of us to contribute an amount of money for a court case.”

“We’re looking at that,” Feinstein told constituents at a recent town hall event. “The hope is that there will be 41 of us that will be on that court case.”

Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also said they have heard from Blumenthal about the idea.

“I would want to sit down and talk to him about it. It’s something I’m very interested in looking at,” Durbin said.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) directed questions to the Connecticut Democrat, but added that Blumenthal has “talked to the caucus about that.”

Asked about the remarks from his colleagues, Blumenthal said he is “considering courses of action that would enable us to hold [Trump] and others in the administration accountable for their conflicts of interest.”

Blumenthal said that he hoped “we’ll reach conclusions in the very near future” about course of action to take but noted that senators were reviewing all options available to them.

“We’re very seriously considering all the courses of action that may be open to us because these conflicts of interest are so serious … and they affect not only the president very deeply but also others in the administration,” he said.

Maria McElwain, a spokeswoman for Blumenthal, said “there are ongoing conversations between members of the Senate and constitutional and ethics experts” about what course of action senators could take “if the administration continues to fail to provide transparency and comply with the nation’s laws.”

“Senator Blumenthal is focused on how to make sure that the Trump administration is held accountable for its unprecedented conflicts of interest, and ensure that no one — not even the president — is above the law,” she added.

Blumenthal’s office declined to provide further details.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether the New York Democrat has talked with Blumenthal about the idea of a lawsuit.

Before taking office, Trump announced that he was giving his sons control of his real estate empire and placing his assets in a trust, along with others steps meant to prevent conflicts of interest.

But Trump declined to sell his company or create a blind trust, drawing criticism from Democrats and some ethics experts.

Democrats warn that unless the president sheds his financial assets and places money in a blind trust, he risks violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

Under that provision, “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.”

Feinstein said during a town hall last week that her staff is “looking very closely” at the constitutional language.

In addition to a potential lawsuit, Feinstein said Democrats are examining whether Congress could deny payments for certain White House expenditures, including trips for Trump’s sons.

“It’s being done by people who really have a great sense of ethics,” she said. “We’re working on all of these to get good solid legal answers.”

Feinstein said Democrats have made a “concentrated effort to put a program together which would involve non-payment of certain expenses, divestment … and then we’re taking a good look at conflicts of interest and trademarks.”

Blumenthal has frequently questioned Trump’s financial holdings, sending letters to Trump and Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, about the Chinese government’s decision to provisionally grant dozens of Trump trademarks nearly a year after they were applied for.

“You have a constitutional duty to request and receive Congress’s affirmative consent before accepting anything of value from a foreign government. We cannot countenance your violation of that duty,” Blumenthal and a dozen other Senate Democrats wrote in a letter to Trump about the trademarks.

Government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) separately field a lawsuit against Trump earlier this year, arguing he has violated the Constitution. That group expanded the lawsuit last month to include the “gratuitous Chinese trademarks” among the examples of violations of the Emoluments provision.

If Democrats decide to move forward with a lawsuit against Trump, it wouldn’t be without precedent.

House Republicans voted to sue President Obama in November 2014, arguing he had abused his executive powers. That lawsuit focused on ObamaCare’s twice-delayed rule that larger employers offer health insurance and funding for a method of consumer financial assistance.

Asked why the White House was able to refuse handing over documents tied to former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) noted that Democrats had sued previous GOP administrations.

“It raises a lot of questions when they refuse to release documents. …The Congress can go to court, [can] get a resolution,” Conyers said during a House Democrats Facebook Live event on Thursday.

He noted that “when Nancy Pelosi was the Speaker, and I was the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee … we went to court.”

Democrats sued the George W. Bush administration in 2008 as they tried to force presidential chief of staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers to testify about the firing of U.S. attorneys.

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