Marylanders are served by emoluments lawsuit

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, right and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh announce their lawsuit against President Donald J. Trump last year. They claim foreign payments to Trump's businesses violate the Constitution's Emoluments Clause.
District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, right and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh announce their lawsuit against President Donald J. Trump last year. They claim foreign payments to Trump's businesses violate the Constitution's Emoluments Clause.(MICHAEL REYNOLDS / EPA)

Recently, a letter writer from Harford County posed a question regarding Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s participation in the so-called Emoluments Clause lawsuit alleging that President Donald Trump violated the U.S. Constitution by accepting payment from foreign and state governments without congressional approval. His question for the editor (and, one presumes, the general public) is this, essentially: What’s in it for Maryland?

“Suppose Attorney General Brian Frosh ‘wins’ his case against President Donald Trump,” the correspondent wondered, “what will the citizens of Maryland gain?”


It is unsurprising, of course, that the lawsuit in question is much on the minds of those who follow national politics. Maryland U.S. District Court Judge Peter J. Messitte recently authorized some 30 subpoenas on behalf of Mr. Frosh and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine after rejecting Trump administration efforts to have the case tossed. As a result, the investigative process is expected to continue well into next summer with further hearings and decisions likely to coincide with the president’s 2020 reelection campaign.

On top of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any potential role the Trump campaign played in it, the expectation that Democrats are poised to launch a number of investigations into the Trump administration when they assume control of the U.S. House of Representatives next month and the general Warren Harding-level aura of corruption that envelops this White House, the Frosh-Racine lawsuit is widely viewed, at least by Trump supporters, as piling on. Oh, and add to that the partisan view of Mr. Frosh’s federal lawsuits generally — it emerged as a major reelection campaign issue this year in Maryland, resurrecting memories of last year’s polarized state legislative vote to authorize his authority to launch such litigation without the Republican governor’s approval. All combined, the appearance of Blue State Democrats taking aim is unmistakable.

It’s also patently wrong. What’s alleged here is serious, and Messrs. Frosh and Racine are uniquely positioned to pursue the case. There have been numerous reports of foreign governments deliberately booking rooms and events at the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington specifically to please the Trump family. While President Trump may have ceded control of the Trump organization to his sons, he has not divested. Nor has he shared full information regarding his finances — not his personal tax returns, nor the hotel’s books. What’s the difference between profits steered his way by foreign governments and outright bribes? Just a bit of laundry, perhaps, and not just the hotel linens variety.

Certain Maryland hoteliers and related hospitality businesses lose out when foreign governments book the Trump Hotel to curry presidential favor. The state lose tax revenues as a result. That’s a major reason why it’s important that Mr. Frosh be part of this legal challenge. An attorney representing those businesses has standing in the court.

But it’s much more important to Maryland residents than that. Rooting out corruption is a noble calling and serves the public interest every time. We do not ask the question, what’s in it for us, when a Baltimore mayor is prosecuted for accepting gift cards meant for low-income children. We did not object to the recent prosecution of a longtime city lawmaker for accepting bribes from an FBI informant. Nor was it wrong for a Republican administration to bring racketeering and mail fraud charges against Democratic Gov. Marvin Mandel four decades ago. Corruption is corruption (even when masked by complex race track deals).

President Trump had fair warning about all this. He could have put his assets in a blind trust. He might have simply sold them off. Or, at minimum, he might have disclosed, disclosed, disclosed and used the argument that the American electorate could be the final judge on any potential conflict of interest. But he has done none of the above. Suing the Trump administration for violating the “country’s first anti-corruption law” as Mr. Racine recently described the Emoluments Clause (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8) is not only in the interest of every Maryland resident and every D.C. resident, it’s in the interest of every American. For all its partisan implications, at the heart of this litigation is an effort to guard against an obvious violation of the public trust by the nation’s top officeholder. That is why we elect (and handily reelect) law enforcement officials like Mr. Frosh.