Justice Department lawyers sought the dismissal Friday of a lawsuit alleging President Donald Trump is violating the Constitution by letting his businesses accept money from foreign governments.
In papers filed in Manhattan federal court, the government said none of the plaintiffs had suffered an injury that would give them standing to sue. It also said the relief sought by the plaintiffs is unconstitutional.
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The plaintiffs include the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United Inc., and two individuals.
Deepak Gupta, a plaintiffs' lawyer, said the lawsuit has proper standing, in part because it includes plaintiffs who compete with the Republican president's hotels and restaurants for business from foreign governments.
"This is about whether the president is loyal to the American people and the American people alone," Gupta said. "There have been many presidents before him. No president has had the kind of business entanglement with foreign governments like Donald Trump."
The lawsuit earlier this year sought to force Trump to divest his business interests. But government lawyers say the Supreme Court has long held that courts have no power to issue those kinds of orders against sitting presidents.
The lawsuit pertains to the "emoluments clause" of the Constitution, which says the president may not accept foreign gifts or payments without the consent of Congress. The definition of what is a gift or payment is in fierce dispute. The Trump Organization insists the clause does not apply to "fair value exchanges" in which people pay for a service, like use of a hotel room.
"Given the president's unique status in the constitutional scheme, the framers envisioned only political means to ensure a president's compliance with constitutional provisions such as the Emoluments Clauses, not official-capacity injunctions against the president," according to the lawyers for the Justice Department's civil division in Washington.
In the court papers, lawyers said the plaintiffs' efforts to define the law "would create absurd consequences."
They wrote that plaintiffs believe a president cannot hold stocks in companies conducting business globally since some of those companies' earnings would stem from business with foreign governments.
"Before this suit, that conclusion had never been contemplated," the lawyers said.
A president also could not receive royalties from foreign book sales if the purchases came from a foreign government instrumentality, such as a foreign public university, the lawyers said.
Gupta said those claims were a mischaracterization of the plaintiffs' arguments.
He said a ruling could occur as early as the end of the summer after additional arguments from both sides.
In a statement, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said the government's papers showed "that they don't believe anyone can go to court to stop the president from systematically violating the Constitution. We heartily disagree and look forward to our day in court."
Norman Eisen, another plaintiffs' lawyer, said the government's arguments Friday followed a familiar pattern used to defend the travel ban against some predominantly Muslim countries and in a case involving so-called sanctuary cities.
"They raise standing issues, talk about whether there is actual injury and say the court should not address the case at all. The government, the Trump administration, takes a strained reading of the Constitution," Eisen said.
Associated Press writer Julie Bykowicz in Washington contributed to this report