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D.C., Maryland To Sue Trump Over Foreign Payments

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Maryland and the District of Columbia are suing the president of the United States. It is an extraordinary move and an extraordinary charge. The suit alleges that President Trump is violating an anti-corruption clause in the Constitution that prevents the president from taking gifts or money from foreign governments.

Details are expected to come out later today in a press conference. But according to The Washington Post, the suit centers on the president's failure to divest himself of his business interests, including the Trump Hotel here in Washington. For more on this, we're joined by The Washington Post's Aaron Davis, who first reported this story last night.

Aaron, thanks for being here.

AARON DAVIS: Happy to be here.

MARTIN: Why do Maryland and the District of Columbia think they have a case against the president?

DAVIS: Well, the nuts and bolts of this case are that D.C. and Maryland are being hurt by Trump's Hotel in D.C. The president has been promoting at the hotel. Now foreign diplomats are staying there. Foreign governments are holding events. And that comes, the lawsuit says, at the expense of the city taxpayer-funded convention center and another in nearby Maryland.

MARTIN: So literally, hotels and conventions are now competing with a hotel that the president owns. And the suit alleges that that hotel is benefiting from being owned by the president of the United States.

DAVIS: Right.

MARTIN: So it's getting an unfair advantage. How serious a threat is this to the president?

DAVIS: Well, what's interesting is this - as you said, this is the - unique. This is the first time that a state is suing the president for violating the Emoluments Clause. And, you know, D.C. and Maryland are casting this in a very broad sense. The case, they believe, is destined for the Supreme Court. And to really understand the extent of the financial benefit that Trump is getting from foreign governments, a big first part of this case is going to be about whether D.C. and Maryland can convince a judge to force Trump to release his tax returns.

MARTIN: We've heard about those before. So an activist group brought a similar lawsuit back in January. How is this one different or more significant?

DAVIS: Well, you do have as - you have parties that may have standing. You need somebody who says I can actually show you harm.

MARTIN: Yeah.

DAVIS: ...Right? And those are taxpayers in D.C. that can say, you know, we're being hurt by this, the same in Maryland. You know, it's very likely that in a case like this, you could have New York, you could have other states joining in where there are, you know, Trump properties in their states or proximity to Trump properties. And there could be a wide range of people beyond that.

MARTIN: Is this just about the Trump Hotel, or does this involve other businesses he has?

DAVIS: This is almost everything. If you read through this, it's a litany of everything you probably heard in headlines but haven't quite made sense of in the Trump world - Mar-a-Lago, the fees down there. That's...

MARTIN: Fees - what do you mean?

DAVIS: Well, it's, you know, President Trump and his company increased from 100,000 to $200,000 the initiation fee to join after he took office. You know, lots of different ways he's made money where you can - if you're Maryland and D.C., you perceive that he's made money off of being president.

MARTIN: By being president. So you mentioned this is likely to go all the way to the court. If - after the suit is filed later today, what's the next step?

DAVIS: Well, there's probably going to be, as there was in the first lawsuit with this nonprofit a few months ago, a big fight over standing. Can you sue the president of the United States? There'll probably be a big push by the Justice Department to show that, you know, the president is - you can't be in violation, if you're the president, in the Emoluments Clause.

MARTIN: We will keep following this. Aaron Davis of The Washington Post, he broke this story last night. Thanks so much for being with us, Aaron.

DAVIS: Happy to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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