By Jonathan Stempel
| NEW YORK
NEW YORK President Donald Trump on Monday dismissed allegations in a new lawsuit by prominent constitutional and ethics lawyers that he is violating the U.S. Constitution by letting his hotels and other businesses accept payments from foreign governments.Trump told reporters at the White House that the lawsuit by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington was "without merit."The nonprofit contended that Trump is "submerged in conflicts of interest" from his ties to countries such as China, India and potentially Russia, potentially posing a "creeping, insidious threat" to the country.Its lawsuit seeks to stop Trump from accepting any improper payments, saying a constitutional provision known as the "emoluments" clause bans them.The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.It is part of a wave of expected litigation from liberal advocacy groups against Trump, a Republican who took office on Friday.On Jan. 11, Trump said he would retain ownership of his global business empire while president, but hand off day-to-day control to his oldest sons, Eric and Donald Jr..Sheri Dillon, a Trump adviser, said at the time that profit generated at Trump's hotels from foreign governments would be donated to the U.S. Treasury.
But the lawsuit said Trump's refusal to cede ownership or set up a blind trust has resulted in conflicts of interest that leave him "poised" to violate the Constitution repeatedly while in the White House.Natalie Gewargis - a spokeswoman for Morgan Lewis & Bockius, a law firm representing Trump on ethics matters and where Dillon is a partner - said on Monday: "We do not comment on our clients or the work we do for them."U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, will preside over the lawsuit.HOTELS STAYS, "APPRENTICE" RIGHTS
The emoluments clause forbids Trump and other U.S. officeholders from accepting various gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval.According to the complaint, that makes payments by foreign governments for various services by Trump's companies illegal.These allegedly include sums for the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's lease at Trump Tower in New York, stays at Trump's hotels, rounds at Trump's golf courses, and the rights to rebroadcast or create new versions of Trump's reality TV show "The Apprentice."The Constitution's framers intended to ban such payments, believing that "private financial interests can subtly sway even the most virtuous leaders, and entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious threat to the Republic," the complaint said.
China, India, Indonesia, Turkey and the United Kingdom are among the countries with which Trump's companies do or plan to do business, and Trump had been trying to do business with Russia for at least three decades, the complaint said.Meanwhile, payments for a Washington hotel booking next month by the Embassy of Kuwait for its "National Day" celebration are expected to "go directly to defendant while he is president," the complaint added.One potential hurdle concerns whether the plaintiff has legal standing to sue.The nonprofit said it does, claiming it was "significantly injured" by having to divert resources to the lawsuit and field hundreds of media questions about Trump's businesses.Among the lawyers who worked on the complaint were constitutional scholars Laurence Tribe of Harvard University, and Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California at Irvine's law school.Others include Richard Painter, a White House ethics lawyer under former Republican President George W. Bush. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)
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Updated Date: Jan 24, 2017 00:15 AM