Lawsuit accusing Donald Trump of violating constitution could be key to releasing his taxes

Jon Sharman
US President Donald Trump: Reuters

Donald Trump has been accused of violating the US Constitution by letting his hotels and restaurants accept payments from foreign governments, by an ethics watchdog which has expanded its lawsuit against the US President.

The complaint by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CARE) adds top US chefs and a hotel events booker from Washington, DC as plaintiffs. It claims they lost bookings through foreign governments trying to “curry favor” with Mr Trump by using his businesses.

CARE wants to obtain copies of the President's tax returns as part of the lawsuit, according to Hollywood Reporter.

Mr Trump said the original lawsuit,filed in January, had no merit. He expected to respond to the current complaint later this week.

The amended complaint claims Mr Trump violates the Constitution's “emoluments” clause, which bars him from accepting various gifts from foreign governments without congressional approval, by maintaining ownership over his business empire.

This is despite the US leader ceding day-to-day control to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr.

It said members of Restaurant Opportunities Centres United Inc, which represents more than 200 restaurants and nearly 25,000 workers, have improperly lost business, wages and tips to Mr Trump's competing businesses.

Jill Phaneuf, the other new plaintiff, works for a hospitality company that books events in hotels near Washington's “Embassy Row,” which house foreign diplomats, and claimed Mr Trump is costing her commissions.

The lawsuit said such losses have even occurred since Mr Trump took office, when China granted him trademark rights after he pledged to honour the “One China” policy of his White House predecessors.

“When asked why defendant changed his position on the One China policy, and whether he had gotten something in exchange from China, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer answered: 'The President always gets something,'” the complaint said.

US District Judge Ronnie Abrams, an appointee of former Democratic President Barack Obama, will oversee the litigation.

The lawsuit seeks to “uphold one of the most basic aspects of the rule of law: no one, including the president, is above the law,” Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California at Irvine's law school and one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, said in a statement.

Additional reporting by agencies