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Frosh: Emoluments ‘not on my radar’ during empowerment to sue Trump

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, left, accompanied by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine, speaks during a news conference in Washington on to discuss their lawsuit filed against President Donald Trump based on the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, left, accompanied by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine, speaks during a news conference in Washington on to discuss their lawsuit filed against President Donald Trump based on the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh had no plans to sue President Donald Trump in federal court for his alleged unconstitutional receipt of personal benefits while in office when the General Assembly gave him the authority to take the chief executive to court to protect the state’s residents.

“Surprisingly, they don’t teach the Emoluments Clause in law school,” Frosh said in an interview Monday of the Constitution’s anti-corruption provision. “It was not on my radar in February.”

But Frosh decided in April to sue under the Emoluments Clause after examining Trump’s vast real-estate holdings both in the United States and abroad and the likelihood that Trump has used the influence of his office to unconstitutionally profit from these properties.

“The whole point is that the citizens of Maryland have a constitutional right to an uncorruptible president, to an honest president,” Frosh said. “We need to know that he is putting our country first, not his businesses first.”

Frosh, with District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine and government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed suit against Trump on Monday in federal district court in Greenbelt. Frosh said he consulted with his congressman, Rep. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, a supporter, friend, former fellow Democratic state senator and constitutional scholar who has stated publicly that Trump has likely violated the Emoluments Clause.

Raskin said he and fellow Democratic members of Congress plan to follow the attorney generals’ lead by filing an Emoluments Clause against Trump on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The congressman praised the General Assembly for giving the attorney general the authority to sue the president, enabling Frosh to be “an active force in the country for the rule of law.”

Political attack?

But state Sen. Robert G. Cassilly, R-Harford called it “sad” that Frosh has used his authority to file a lawsuit aimed at attacking Trump politically rather at protecting Marylanders from an adverse presidential policy – such as increased health care costs or environmental deregulation – as the Democrat-led General Assembly ostensibly intended in passing the resolution.

Trump’s alleged violation of the Emoluments Clause causes no injury to Maryland residents and thus goes beyond the legislature’s intent, Cassilly said.

“There’s politics, there’s raw politics and there’s grotesquely raw politics,” the senator added. “This is grotesquely raw politics.”

Frosh, Cassilly continued, is essentially saying, “‘The ends justify the means. I’ve got to get Trump.’ I honestly didn’t think he would take it to this level of gross politicization. I am very disappointed.”

An aide to Gov. Larry Hogan, who has repeatedly declined to comment on Trump and his policies, was similarly silent Monday regarding Frosh’s lawsuit.

“Per the resolution passed by the General Assembly, the governor’s office no longer has a role in the process,” Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse stated in an email message.

The attorneys general are not the first to sue Trump over emoluments. Just days after Trump’s inauguration in January, CREW filed a federal lawsuit in New York. Since then, a restaurant group and two individuals in the hotel industry have joined as plaintiffs.

The Justice Department said Friday that those plaintiffs did not suffer in any way and had no standing to sue, and that it is unconstitutional to sue the president in his official capacity.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer noted that response at a White House press briefing Monday.

“This lawsuit today is just another iteration of the case that was filed by that group CREW, filed actually by the same lawyers,” Spicer said. “So it’s not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations behind the suit.”

‘Self-interested motivations’

Frosh and Racine, a Democrat, allege that Trump has violated the Emoluments Clause by using the influence of his office to profit in the United States and abroad from his real estate holdings, as well as from reruns of his reality television show “The Apprentice.”

Domestically, the Emoluments Clause permits the president to collect a salary but bars him from receiving “any other emolument” from the United States or any state or to accept “any present, emolument, officer, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state” without congressional consent.

The attorneys general contend Trump has unconstitutionally profited from leases of Trump properties by foreign-government-owned entities; the purchase and ownership of condominiums in Trump properties by foreign governments; the use by foreign governments and diplomats of accommodations, restaurant purchases and venues for events at Trump hotels; and the continuation of the U.S. General Services Administration’s lease at Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel, which Raskin called “the Washington Emolument.”

The complaint also alleges that Trump has violated the Emoluments Clause by receiving residual payments from foreign-government-owned broadcasters who have shown reruns of “The Apprentice,” which starred Trump from 2004 to 2015.

“These present and continuing violations of the Constitution’s anti-corruption protections threaten the free and independent self-governance at the core of our democracy,” Frosh and Racine stated in the complaint.

“The president is making decisions every day with profound and far-reaching effects on American life, from determining who can travel into the country to deciding whether the United States will abandon global efforts to combat climate change; from proposing budgets to overseeing the federal workforce; from evaluating who will pay more in taxes to choosing how people will access health care,” the complaint reads. “Yet Americans are left uncertain as to whether these decisions, with their sweeping impact on foreign and domestic policy, are driven solely by unyielding loyalty to the country’s best interests, or rather are affected by self-interested motivations grounded in the international and domestic business dealings in which President Trump’s personal fortune is at stake.”

Trump’s alleged violations specifically harm Maryland and the District’s “capacity as proprietors of businesses that compete with the defendant’s businesses, to the extent that businesses owned by him and/or his affiliated enterprises attract customers and divert them away from businesses that the district and Maryland own, license, or tax.”

Maryland and the District are also “harmed by perceived and/or actual pressure to grant special treatment to the defendant (president) and his extensive affiliated enterprises, or else be placed at a disadvantage vis-à-vis other states and governments that have granted or will grant such special treatment,” the complaint states. “In addition, the District and Maryland have an interest in protecting their economies and their residents, who, as the defendant’s local competitors, are injured by decreased business, wages, and tips resulting from economic and commercial activity diverted to the defendant and his business enterprises due to his ongoing constitutional violations. Maryland is itself further injured by the reduction in tax revenue that flows from those violations.”

Frosh and Racine seek a declaratory judgment from the federal court that Trump has violated the Emoluments Clause, an order that he stop and any other relief that the judge deems “just and proper.”

The case is docketed as The District of Columbia and the State of Maryland v. Donald J. Trump, No. 8:17-cv-01596-PJM.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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