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Donald Trump

Donald Trump says his ‘absolute immunity’ means he doesn’t have to face lawsuit accusing him of ignoring anti-corruption laws

The lawsuit accuses the US president of violating the constitutional clause that demands the president disentangle himself from business interests in case he becomes susceptible to corruption

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 11:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 11:40pm

A lawsuit accusing US President Donald Trump of ignoring anti-corruption constitutional safeguards by refusing to separate himself from his business empire while in office will be struck down because he has “absolute immunity” if the president gets his way.

The lawsuit, filed by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia, accused Trump of violating the US Constitution’s “emoluments” clause that bars officials from accepting gifts or other payments from foreign governments without congressional approval. The same clause also bars the president from receiving gifts and payments from individual states.

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“If plaintiffs want to sue the president for acts taken while in office, they must sue him in official capacity. But he is absolutely immune from any suit, including this one, seeking to impose individual liability premised on his assumption of the presidency itself,” Trump’s lawyer William Consovoy wrote in a court filing on Tuesday.

“The Supreme Court has concluded that the costs to the nation of allowing such suits to distract the president from his official duties outweigh any countervailing interests. That choice must be respected,” Consovoy added.

Trump’s legal team previously sought to have the case tossed out, but US District Judge Peter Messitte in Greenbelt, Maryland, let it proceed last month even as he narrowed the claims only to those related to Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington.

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Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and the District of Columbia’s attorney general, Karl Racine, both Democrats, argued in their suit, filed last June, that local residents were harmed by unfair competition by Trump’s hotel and other businesses.

Lawyers for Trump, a Republican, previously argued that such harm was speculative and difficult to link directly to Trump.

Trump, whose businesses include a host of real estate properties as well as golf courses and a Virginia winery, handed day-to-day management to his sons Donald Trump Jnr and Eric.

But the plaintiffs said Trump has not disentangled himself and is vulnerable to inducements by people, including foreign officials, seeking to curry favour. 

Frosh and Racine have indicated that they will seek numerous documents related to Trump, including his tax returns. 

Trump has bucked precedent by not releasing his tax returns during his 2016 presidential campaign or as president.

In December, a US judge in New York threw out a similar lawsuit against Trump brought by another group of plaintiffs.