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Democratic Lawmakers Say Trump Is Violating The Constitution


There are now three lawsuits that challenge Donald Trump's simultaneous roles of President and international business tycoon. The latest suit was filed this morning by nearly 200 Democratic senators and representatives. They say Trump is violating a part of the Constitution meant to prevent corruption from foreign governments. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: This latest lawsuit says Trump is ignoring the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. It requires the consent of Congress for federal officials to accept any benefits from foreign governments. In practice, this has usually meant gifts from foreign leaders and other small-scale items. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, says Trump shouldn't be treated any differently.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: The scope and scale of President Trump's holdings across the globe are truly unprecedented. But that's no excuse for refusing to obey the Constitution.

OVERBY: Blumenthal is a leader among the 196 senators and representatives, all Democrats, who signed up as plaintiffs for the lawsuit. He said Congress ought to be conducting oversight to prevent corruption involving The Trump Organization's business dealings overseas.

BLUMENTHAL: This story is unfolding in real time. He is receiving additional payments, benefits, advantages from these foreign governments. And it will continue.

OVERBY: The lawsuit grew out of research by the Constitutional Accountability Center, a progressive organization that describes itself as part law firm, part think tank. Elizabeth Wydra is the center's president. She said the center has been working on this issue for years.

ELIZABETH WYDRA: The Emoluments Clause and frankly the word emoluments was not sort of the obscure thing that it might seem to modern Americans but was rather a crucial part of the various anti-corruption provisions that were written into the Constitution at the founding.

OVERBY: Law Professor Jonathan Adler of Case Western Reserve University has doubts that the Democrats' argument will get traction in federal courts. But if any of the three lawsuits gets as far as the discovery phase, President Trump could have to disclose considerable financial details. Adler says that might lead to what the Democrats are seeking - congressional oversight of emoluments.

JONATHAN ADLER: Ideally Congress would be engaged in that question. And it's certainly possible that more disclosure could induce Congress to fulfill its responsibility in that regard.

OVERBY: So far, that kind of oversight is something Republican leaders in Congress haven't wanted to touch. And meanwhile, the Trump White House rejects the claims in the three lawsuits. In a filing last week, the Justice Department said the flow of foreign wealth to Trump companies doesn't fit the Constitution's definition of emoluments. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF JINSANG'S "LEARNING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 14, 2017 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier version of this broadcast story said the lawsuit grew out of research by the Congressional Accountability Council. The organization is the Constitutional Accountability Council.
Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.