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Restaurant group joins lawsuit against Trump over foreign payments to his businesses

President-elect Donald Trump’s worldwide business ventures could be an issue based on an obscure provision in the Constitution. (Jan. 12, 2017)

An organization that advocates for restaurant workers has joined a lawsuit that claims President Trump is violating the Constitution by letting his businesses accept money from foreign governments.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and a Washington-based luxury hotel event booker were added to the lawsuit filed by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

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Trump called the lawsuit “without merit, totally without merit” when it was filed in Manhattan federal court in January. A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice's civil division said Tuesday that the government had no comment.

The lawsuit said that a constitutional clause prohibits Trump from receiving money from foreign governments for hotel stays or office leases. The rewritten lawsuit cites violations it says have resulted since Trump became president, including the leasing of the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

"With the filing of our amended complaint, I have no doubt that President Trump and his battalion of attorneys have no legal ground to stand on and must soon face the constitutional music," attorney Laurence H. Tribe said in a release. "The time for dodging, weaving and distracting from his corrupt practices has run out."

Another attorney, UC Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, said the lawsuit upholds "one of the most basic aspects of the rule of law: No one, including the president, is above the law."

The lawsuit said Restaurant Opportunities Centers United's members include restaurants and employees who lost business, wages and tips while competing with restaurants owned by Trump, including in Washington and New York.

It identified the hotel event booker as Jill Phaneuf, saying she stands to lose income as a result of competition with Trump's hotels as she tries to book events for two Washington hotels, including political functions involving foreign governments.

The lawsuit seeks a judge's declaration that Trump is violating the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses and a requirement that he release financial records sufficient to confirm he's not engaging in other violations of the clauses.

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