One of the major legal battles waged against President Donald Trump has been over his businesses and whether profits he earns through them violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. Oral arguments in one of the cases is set for next week. Leading the charge has been nonprofit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). At least, the organization, chaired by former Obama ethics czar Norm Eisen, had been, until they quietly dropped out of the case they brought. Not one media organization that we could find even reported their withdrawal.
The Emoluments Clause prohibits federal officials from receiving titles or gifts from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. This case included claims that restaurants that compete with those in Trump properties face unfair competition because officials are going to want to support Trump’s establishments over others in order to ingratiate themselves with the president.
CREW themselves claimed that they suffer a loss of resources by having to fight against such violations, which sounds like nonsense, because then any lawyer could theoretically join their own client’s lawsuits since they have to expend resources to represent them.
The complaint was first filed in the Southern District of New York on Oct. 23, 2017, and Judge George B. Daniels ultimately dismissed it on Dec. 21, 2017, stating–unsurprisingly–that CREW did not adequately make any claim of injury, and that other plaintiffs lacked standing to sue.
Seemingly undeterred, CREW filed a notice of appeal less than two months later. That appears to be their last involvement in the case.
CREW issued a press release when they filed the notice of appeal, saying, “We are willing to fight as long as it takes. This is a matter of justice for restaurant workers.”
They did not make an announcement when they changed their minds. That was left to a tiny footnote in a plaintiff’s brief filed April 24, 2018, which said:
The plaintiffs in the district court included Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Although CREW joined the notice of appeal, CREW is no longer appealing the district court’s judgment.
Media coverage of the case seemed to miss this entirely. The New York Times referenced the appeal–and CREW’s supposed involvement–in June, well after they bowed out. In fact, while CREW often pops up in major publications, there does not seem to be a single story about their decision to drop their appeal in this case.
When reached by Law&Crime, a spokesperson for CREW said, “While we continue to believe that CREW has a strong basis for standing in this case, we made a strategic decision that focusing our appeal around the competitor standing argument would be best for the case going forward.” I happen to agree with that, but that’s because I didn’t think CREW had a solid claim to begin with. First they said they would “fight as long as it takes,” but now they’re pretty much admitting that they didn’t have much to fight for in the first place.
Oral arguments for the remaining parties in the case are set for Oct. 30, 2018.
CREW continues to support a separate, similar Emoluments Clause case brought by the Attorneys General of Maryland and Washington, D.C. They issued a press release in July lauding a judge’s decision to allow that case to move forward. Lately, they haven’t said anything about the case they themselves brought–and then abandoned–in New York.
[Image via Spencer Platt/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.