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D.C., Maryland Officials Hit President Trump With Lawsuit

Washington D.C. and Maryland officials say Trump may be violating a constitutional clause barring presidents from cashing in on the presidency
Image: US Vice President Mike Pence swears in General Mattis as US Secretary of Defense
President Donald J. Trump signs Executive Orders in the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon on Jan. 27, 2017 in Arlington. FileOlivier Douliery / EPA File

President Trump was hit with a lawsuit Monday accusing him of "flagrantly" thumbing his nose at the constitutional prohibition against accepting payments and benefits from foreign governments since he took office.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and his D.C. counterpart, Karl Racine, also vowed to wrest from Trump financial and tax records that he has thus far refused to reveal so they can find out whether he is cashing in on the presidency.

“The suit alleges that President Trump is flagrantly violating the Constitution,” Racine said at a press conference in Washington. “Never in the history of this country have we had a president with these kinds of extensive business entanglements.”

Racine said he can see Trump International Hotel from his window and "we know exactly what's going on there."

"We know foreign governments are spending there to curry favor with the President of the United States," Racine said. "The Saudis are already spending hundreds of thousands of dollars at the Trump Hotel."

"By not divesting himself from his businesses," Trump is flouting the constitutional protections against corruption, Racine said.

Related: What Is the Emoluments Clause and What It Means for Trump?

Racine also ripped the Republican controlled Congress for giving Trump "a total pass on his businesses."

"The president's conflict of interests threaten our country," Frosh said. "He continues to take money from foreign governments....He doesn't seem to understand or care about these violations of the constitution."

Frosh and Racine are both Democrats. Both insisted "this is not a partisan issue."

"What we are saying the Constitution is being violated," said Racine.

The suit alleges that Trump has violated the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution which states that "no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."

Related: Trump Failing to Track Foreign Cash at His Hotels

"President Trump's continued ownership interest in a global empire, which renders him deeply enmeshed with a legion of foreign and domestic government actors, violates the Constitution and calls into question the rule of law and the integrity of the country’s political system, “ the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland, states.

“And irrespective of whether such benefits affect the President’s decision-making or shift his foreign or domestic policy, uncertainty about whether the President is acting in the best interest of the American people, or rather for his own ends or personal enrichment, inflicts lasting harm on our democracy."

“The emoluments clauses are a firewall against corruption,” said Frosh. “We understand the president understands the value of walls. This is one thing he can’t climb over and he can’t dig underneath.”

Image: US Vice President Mike Pence swears in General Mattis as US Secretary of Defense
President Donald J. Trump signs Executive Orders in the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon on Jan. 27, 2017 in Arlington. FileOlivier Douliery / EPA File

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted Trump's "interests do not violate the Emoluments Clause" and said partisan politics in behind this lawsuit.

"It’s not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations behind this," Spicer said Monday. "The suit was filed by two Democratic attorney generals. The lawyers driving the suit are advocacy group with partisan ties."

The Republican National Committee called the lawsuit "absurd".

“From day one, President Trump has been committed to complete transparency and compliance with the law," RNC spokeswoman Lindsay Jancek said in a statement. "The actions of the attorneys general represent the kind of partisan grandstanding voters across the country have come to despise. The American people elected President Trump to lead this country, and it is time Democrats end their efforts to delegitimize his presidency.”

In the past Trump has said he would put their reins of his businesses in the hands of his sons and that nobody cares about his taxes.

This is the first lawsuit filed by government entities against Trump's business interests. It has been assigned to Judge Peter Messitte, an appointee of former president Bill Clinton.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit activist group, has separately sued Trump in U.S. District Court in Manhattan alleging "countless conflicts of interest" in violation of the Constitution's so-called emoluments clause.

In January, Trump promised to track and donate all profits from foreign government travel and commerce at his companies to the U.S. Treasury. But NBC News and MSNBC reported last month that the Trump Organization hasn't been tracking all possible payments it receives from foreign governments.

Company policy detailed in a new pamphlet suggests that it is up to foreign governments, not Trump's hotels, to determine whether foreign governments self-report their business dealings.

"To attempt to individually track and distinctly attribute certain business-related costs as specifically identifiable to a particular customer group is not practical," the pamphlet states.