Donald Trump's Chinese Trademarks Now Part of Emoluments Lawsuit

Donald Trump - Press Conference April 2017 - Getty H 2017
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The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has amended its lawsuit claiming that Donald Trump has violated the emoluments clauses of the U.S. Constitution by accepting money and gifts from foreign states. The lawsuit has not only added new plaintiffs, but has expanded its list of alleged violations to include what's being called "gratuitous Chinese trademarks."

The original complaint came soon after Trump was sworn in as U.S. president and targeted bookings at Trump's Washington, D.C., hotel, payments from foreign-government-owned broadcasters for The Apprentice and more. CREW argues that Trump's "vast, complicated, and secret" business portfolio, and specifically what's coming to him from foreign actors, raises an "an unprecedented threat to two critical, and closely related, anti-corruption provisions in the Constitution aimed at ensuring that the President of the United States faithfully serves the people — free from the compromising effects of financial inducements."

When the lawsuit was filed by a legal all-star team including Laurence Tribe, Norman Eisen, Erwin Chemerinsky, Richard Painter and others, many observers wondered whether the litigation would survive a challenge on standing grounds. CREW originally tried to assert its injury as being a "diversion and depletion of resources" to litigate this issue, but if that's the standard for standing, it pretty much opens the door to any lawsuit.

So now added to the complaint is the Restaurant Opportunities Centers, an association of more than 200 restaurants and thousands of restaurant workers, who claim a loss of business as potential customers patronize Trump's competing establishments. Another new plaintiff is Jill Phaneuf, who works for a hospitality company that books events for hotels.

Even if the plaintiffs hurdle past any standing challenge, they will likely confront an expected argument from the Justice Department that the framers of the Constitution only meant to bar foreign bribery, not ordinary arm's-length transactions like paying for a hotel room.

As such, the addition of China's trademark grants to Trump could be notable.

Trump has been seeking trademark protection in China for more than a decade, and had applications rejected both in the country's trademark office and in courts, before being granted provision trademarks by China for a host of goods and services including branded spas, real estate companies, bars, restaurants...even escort services.

"Despite denying Defendant trademark protection for over ten years, including in a ruling from an appellate court, and despite China’s law barring the use of foreign leaders’ names as trademarks, China gave Defendant the trademark he had requested and valued," states the amended complaint. "However, China only gave the trademark protection to Defendant after he had been elected President, questioned the One China policy, was sworn in, and re-affirmed the One China policy."

It's added that the trademarks have considerable value by giving the Trump Organization the sole right to profit from the Trump brand in China.

The complaint adds, "When asked why Defendant changed his position on the One China policy, and whether he had gotten something in exchange from China, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer answered: 'The President always gets something,' but did not specify what concession was obtained from China."

CREW hopes to obtain copies of Trump's taxes through the lawsuit. The group is seeking injunctive relief, enjoining Trump from violating the emoluments clauses, and requiring him to release financial records sufficient to confirm he is not engaging in further violations. 

The amended suit also comes upon news reports that China granted trademarks to Ivanka Trump on the same day she dined with Chinese president Xi Jinping earlier this month.