February 16, 2017

How states' attorneys general could take down Trump

Slate - An advocacy group called Free Speech for People has asked New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate whether to revoke the charter of The Trump Organization, Inc., due to the president’s ownership stake in the corporation and its alleged history of illegal activity.

The 24-page letter is less interested in new legal arguments, or even in arcane questions of standing, than existing evidence that Trump’s corporate entities are being used to funnel illegal emoluments to Trump. The group’s claims run the gamut from allegations of discriminatory housing practices in the 1970s through last year’s claims against Trump University. In addition to getting around the standing problem, the initiative also sidesteps the need to rope in Congress, the Justice Department, or any other entity disinclined to investigate or question Trump conflicts.

Actions under a state’s quo warranto authorities could be brought, for instance, against the Trump Organization in Washington, where it appears to be in violation of the General Services Administration lease that bars any federal official from operating the hotel. In some states, like California, entities beyond the state AG would be authorized to bring such an action. California law also grants this power to local governments and municipalities.

Under quo warranto proceedings, the state attorneys general and the courts have flexibility to create a balanced remedy. The first step is discovery to find out about the Trump Organization’s financial arrangements and entanglements with foreign and state entities. The next step is to take the emoluments and fraud claims into court. In the end, the attorneys general and the courts may craft a mix of injunctions, fines, divestment, and/or limited disolutions of LLCs..

It’s become clear that the courts are the best hope for restoring at least some stability to the Presidency Inc. regime in which we now find ourselves and that the states have become powerful agents for accountability. This quo warranto business may feel airy and academic. But the logic behind it is persuasive, and the impacts of this legal theory could be very real.

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