The Justice Department said US President Donald Trump is not in violation of the emoluments clause, a constitutional law that prohibits federal officials from accepting payments or gifts from foreign governments without approval from Congress.
The emoluments clause has been a subject of contention since before Trump took office, due in part to his labyrinthine business empire that watchdogs and critics said would entangle Trump in a web of conflicts of interest as president.
Lawyers for the DOJ argued that the emoluments clause does not apply to fair-market commercial transactions, such as fees incurred from hotels and golf club memberships, licensing payments, and office rent, Bloomberg reported on Friday.
Before he took office, Trump promised his businesses would annually donate its profits received from foreign customers at his hotels to the US Treasury Department. The Trump Organization said earlier this year that the first such donation would come in March 2018, according to Politico.
The Justice Department is asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by several plaintiffs, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group that alleges Trump’s business dealings run afoul of the Constitution.
“Plaintiffs read these Emolument Clauses expansively to cover any benefit derived from any business dealings with a foreign, federal, or state instrumentality by an entity in which the President has a financial interest,” the Justice Department said in a memorandum. The DOJ also argued that the Republican-controlled Congress, not the courts, should decide whether Trump is violating the emoluments clause.
CREW filed its suit against Trump in January, alleging that foreign diplomats and officials could seek to curry favor with Trump by patronizing Trump-connected businesses.
“We did not want to get to this point,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder in a January press release announcing the lawsuit. “It was our hope that President Trump would take the necessary steps to avoid violating the Constitution before he took office.”
“He did not. His constitutional violations are immediate and serious, so we were forced to take legal action,” Bookbinder said.