Congress

Engel wants staffers to warn foreign governments about spending at Trump’s hotels

New memo instructs staff on interactions with foreign governments

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel wants Democratic staffers to warn foreign government officials that spending at Trump-owned properties could violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A new directive this week from House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel instructs staffers to warn foreign governments that spending at Trump-owned properties could violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

The memo, released Monday, issues guidelines for staff engaging with foreign governments. The directive signed by the New York Democrat is aimed specifically at the committee’s majority staff. Republican staffers were not given the same instructions.

“When meeting with officials from a foreign government, please inform them that by providing any form of payment or benefit to a Trump-owned property their government is facilitating the president’s apparent violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause,” the memo states. “Please urge those foreign officials to transmit to their governments that the House Foreign Affairs Committee requests that they cease and desist payments to the Trump Organization unless and until Congress approves the emolument, as provided in the Constitution.” 

The emoluments clause states that an officeholder cannot accept, without the consent of Congress, “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

“There are serious concerns that these payments to hotels, businesses, condominiums, or other Trump-owned properties by foreign governments are in violation of the Constitution,” Engel’s memo says.

Nearly 200 Democratic lawmakers — 30 senators and 166 representatives, including Engel — filed a lawsuit in June 2017 alleging that President Donald Trump had violated the emoluments clause by retaining interest in his business empire. Those lawmakers contend that they have standing because the president’s business ventures are accepting foreign money without the consent of Congress.

In early July, Justice Department lawyers asked a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., to throw out or freeze the lawsuit led by Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler.

The DOJ said the lawsuit “rests on a host of novel and flawed constitutional premises,” including whether legislators have the legal right to file such a lawsuit and the definition of what the term “emolument” means.

Todd Ruger and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report. 

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