UMN Law School professor files lawsuit against Donald Trump

Richard Painter, who specializes in ethics and professional responsibility, is part of the team challenging Trump's business conflicts of interest

Professor Richard Painter answers questions in an interview at Mondale hall on West Bank on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. Painter sits as vice-chair for the lawsuit against President Trump for allegedly violating the emoluments clause of the constitution.

Chris Dang

Professor Richard Painter answers questions in an interview at Mondale hall on West Bank on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. Painter sits as vice-chair for the lawsuit against President Trump for allegedly violating the emoluments clause of the constitution.

Bella Dally-Steele

A University of Minnesota law professor is working with a watchdog organization to sue President Donald Trump for major ethics violations.

The group — Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — filed its lawsuit against Trump Jan. 23, claiming his refusal to sell his businesses creates conflicts of interest and violates the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause. Richard Painter, a University professor and former chief ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush is one of the lawyers on the case.

Painter’s legal expertise and sense of priority, paired with a unique sense of humor, make him a valuable asset to the team, said Norman Eisen, who is also listed on the lawsuit and was chief ethics lawyer to President Barack Obama.

Claire Hill, a fellow law professor who has written papers with Painter, said his ability to use knowledge of the subjects he teaches and publishes on — namely ethics and professional responsibility — will help him in the case.

Painter said he was disappointed when, while declaring their candidacies, neither Trump nor Sen. Hillary Clinton promised to sever ties with their businesses and foundations should they become president.

“I think [Clinton] should have [promised to do so], and I think she should have said ‘Hey Donald, you better do the same thing,’” he said. “Of course the conflicts created by [Trump’s] businesses are a lot worse than the conflicts created by a charitable foundation.”

Painter said he hopes the court will uncover what payments Trump and his organizations receive from foreign governments, interpret the Constitution and tell Trump what he can keep.

“I hope [Trump] comes out of this and I hope he rethinks what I think is a very stubborn position that he’s been taking,” he said.

The last time a president held such substantial conflicts of business interest, Painter said, was George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s ownership of slaves.

“But since then, I have not seen business holdings of the president of such a magnitude have such an extreme impact on the country,” he said.

In addition to conflicts of interest, Painter said Trump’s immigration ban raises ethical qualms due to religious discrimination and its selective application to Muslim-majority countries.

“You have First Amendment … Fifth Amendment, and due process all folded in with the … financial conflicts of interest — it’s not a good situation,” he said.

Painter also takes issue with Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns and said he supports the bill introduced to the Minnesota state legislature that would require candidates to release their tax return records before gaining a spot on the ballot.

Painter said he’s remained optimistic about the present lawsuit.

“This lawsuit is only one of many ways in which the president’s decision to continue to take these foreign government payments is going to be challenged,” he said. “It’s going to be challenged by Congress. And at some point the Republicans as well as the Democrats are going to get fed up, and they’re going to demand answers, and if Congress demands answers, they better get them.”