In what could presage a new legal headache for the Trump White House, the lawyer leading a suit against President Trump over his ownership of a Washington hotel says he is “confident” that a federal judge will require the Trump Organization to begin turning over evidence about the hotel’s internal operations — a key step that could reveal details about the president’s finances.
The suit charges that the president is profiting from foreign governments doing business with Trump International Hotel, in violation of the Constitution.
“I do believe there is going to be accountability for this,” said Norm Eisen, the chief of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), in an interview on the Yahoo News podcast Skullduggery. “This is the first time in American history that a president has been brazen enough to take emoluments” — referring to the clause in the U.S. Constitution that bars presidents from taking foreign gifts or payments from foreign governments.
Eisen, who served as special counsel for ethics and government reform under President Obama, is the chief counsel in a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia claiming that foreign governments doing business with Trump’s hotel in Washington violate the Emoluments Clause of the constitution. Lawyers for the president recently asked U.S. Judge Peter Messitte, who is presiding over the case, to toss the lawsuit on the grounds that the president can’t be sued in his personal or official capacity.
But Eisen, noting that Messitte has already allowed the case to proceed, said he fully expects another favorable ruling after a hearing in the case over the scope of the Emoluments Clause slated for June 11. “We are confident the judge is going to allow us to take discovery,” he said.
The president’s decision to maintain ownership of his business while serving in the White House is only one of the ethics issues that has drawn the attention of ethics watchdogs like Eisen. In the interview with Skullduggery hosts Daniel Klaidman and Michael Isikoff, Eisen also pointed to benefits the Trump family businesses have received from the Chinese government. Ivanka Trump’s accessories company was recently granted seven trademarks by the regime, and a Chinese state-owned construction company provided $500 million in financing to Indonesian developers for construction of a theme park venture that will include a Trump-branded hotel and golf course.
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“The Chinese are a one-party state, Isikoff,” Eisen said. “Do you believe these [Chinese] officials are not aware they are giving these benefits to the Trump family members and they don’t intend to shape American policy? Of course they do.”
While he acknowledged he has no “conclusive” evidence of a “quid pro quo,” Eisen noted that these moves came around the same time that Trump tweeted, on May 13, his intention to provide relief for China’s telecom giant, ZTE, which was subject to U.S. sanctions for doing business with Iran and North Korea.
“Look at the proximity,” Eisen said. ZTE is a “threat to American national security and Trump says we are going to save ZTE. That happens around the same time as this $500 million [Indonesian] financing and these trademarks to Ivanka. It is a lot” to accept that “it’s just a coincidence.”
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