By Bruce DePuyt
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) and his Washington, D.C., counterpart Karl Racine (D) made international news with their lawsuit against President Trump on Monday. And the suit likely would not have happened without the Maryland legislature.
Frosh and Racine, backed by the nonpartisan group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, allege in their suit that Trump is violating the Constitution by taking payments from foreign governments while president.
They made their charges at a news conference in D.C. that was covered by dozens of national, international and regional reporters, and carried live on multiple all-news networks. Their claims against the embattled White House quickly became the story of the day.
The attorneys general acknowledged that there wasn’t a lot of case law on the issue and that no president has successfully been challenged on emoluments. But both expressed confidence that the president’s “sprawling business empire” placed him squarely in the crosshairs of Article 1, Section 9.
They pointed to the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and Trump Tower in New York, all of which have received monies from foreign governments with whom the U.S. has complicated relationships.
“It puts democracy at risk when the president is corruptible,” Frosh told reporters. “And the payments he’s received may be corrupting him, and they certainly violate the constitution.”
“We look forward to the litigation in court,” Racine said.
Frosh’s role in spearheading the suit against Trump would not have happened without new powers conferred upon him by the General Assembly in February. The actions were rushed through in the early days of the 2017 session, as the extent of the president’s actions (and inactions) quickly settled in over legislative leaders in a reliably blue state.
Specifically, the resolution empowers the state attorney general to sue the federal government without permission; previously, the AG could only file “friend of the court” briefs in support of someone else’s litigation. It was put into place after Frosh had asked Hogan for permission to become part of a suit seeking to overturn the Trump administration’s policy – later overturned – that would freeze immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries.
In an interview with Maryland Matters Monday, Frosh spoke plainly about the new authority his office has been given by the Democratically-controlled legislature.
“The General Assembly passed a resolution and a law that gives me the authority to engage in this lawsuit and others. And I’m required under both pieces of legislation to give the governor notice, give him an opportunity to comment, and he is required to tell me if he objects.”
Frosh said he received no reply whatsoever from the governor. “I didn’t hear anything.”
Was the lack of communication a surprise?
Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said no one should be surprised.
“Per the resolution passed by the General Assembly, the governor’s office no longer has a role in this process,” she said in an email.
Frosh said he wouldn’t have been in the position to file the lawsuit if he hadn’t been granted the power to do so by the General Assembly.
“I don’t think so. I don’t think Gov. Hogan would have given me permission to do this, if that’s the question. But I don’t know. I am here because the General Assembly gave me that authority.”
Maryland Matters asked: “So to the extent that this action could really be significant, depending on how things play out down the road, the actions of Maryland lawmakers loom potentially as a big deal.”
“Absolutely,” the AG replied. “Wouldn’t be here without ‘em.”