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Trump's Tax Returns Could Be Exposed by Emoluments Case

Trump's Tax Returns Could Be Exposed by Emoluments Case
(Riccardo Savi/AP)

By    |   Wednesday, 18 October 2017 07:34 PM

President Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns as presidents have done since 1977, but a court hearing in Manhattan on Wednesday could end up forcing him to do so.

In a hearing before federal Judge George Daniels, lawyers argued Trump is violating the Constitution's emoluments clauses, which bar public officials from receiving gifts from foreign countries or from state or federal governments without the consent of Congress.

Trump is being sued by four plaintiffs, including the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. They say Trump is profiting from his office because he has failed to divest himself from his company. That could leave him open to having foreign governments attempt to influence him, for example, by staying at his new hotel in Washington, D.C., or at his overseas properties.

If the judge allows the case to go forward, the plaintiffs could get access to Trump's financial documents, including his tax returns, NPR reported.

"We will be looking for detailed financial records, foreign and domestic transactions, in the president's businesses," Joseph Sellers, who represents the plaintiffs, said after the hearing. "If the tax returns turn out to be relevant we may seek them."

Three of the plaintiffs, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United Inc., Eric Goode and Jill Phaneuf, are in the restaurant and hotel business, and say they could be hurt by having the president of the United States as a direct competitor.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Deepak Gupta called Trump's Washington hotel "an emoluments magnet," according to NPR.

But Justice Department lawyer Brett Shumate argued the plaintiffs should not have legal standing because they have not proved their hotels and restaurants have suffered harm. He also argued presidents might not even be covered by the Foreign Emoluments Clause.

Shumate and the judge argued over the definition of "emoluments," according to The Wall Street Journal, with Shumate finally admitting a private business transaction could be considered an emolument, but only if it led to action by the president that the foreign entity wanted.

Daniels first asked whether the Constitution allows a president to accept $1 million from a foreign government to sign a treaty. He then suggested, instead of paying the $1 million directly to the president, the foreign government instead bought $1 million worth of hotdogs from the president's hotdog-vending business.

Shumate said purchase of the hot dogs would not be considered an emolument unless the president actually signed the treaty.

Daniels, a Clinton appointee, said during the hearing he will rule within 60 days whether to accept the federal government's motion to dismiss the case. He also said he could end up finding Trump is in violation of the emoluments clauses, but not order him to do anything about it.

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A court hearing in Manhattan on Wednesday might end up forcing President Donald Trump to release his tax returns as presidents have done since 1977.
emoluments, tax returns, president, trump organization
Wednesday, 18 October 2017 07:34 PM
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