According to a recent USA Today report, at least 10 Justice Department lawyers and paralegals are currently working on lawsuits concerning Trump's private businesses — and these Trump lawyers are being funded by taxpayers. Neither the White House nor the Justice Department have issued official figures about exactly how much these lawyers are costing taxpayers, but USA Today cited federal payroll records placing government lawyers' salaries between $133,000 and $185,000.
DOJ lawyers are apparently working on four different lawsuits involving Trump's private businesses. They are primarily defending these businesses being able to accrue profits from foreign officials and governments, arguing that this is not unconstitutional. Like Trump's private lawyers, the government lawyers argue that foreign officials conducting transactions with Trump's private companies is not the same as Trump accepting gifts from foreign governments.
Shortly after Trump's inauguration, a nonpartisan legal watchdog group —Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) — filed a lawsuit accusing Trump of violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which prohibits anyone in elected office from receiving payments from foreign governments. CREW tried to force Trump to divest from his private companies on the basis of this clause, but in June, the DOJ motioned to dismiss this lawsuit. Bustle has reached out to CREW for comment.
Since Trump assumed the presidency, other countries — including Saudi Arabia and Turkey — have paid for state-sponsored events at Trump's D.C. hotel, and foreign diplomats reportedly believed that staying at the hotel would be a way to earn Trump's friendship.
Foreign officials' transactions with Trump's private businesses have generated significant amounts of controversy. According to USA Today's report, government lawyers are arguing that Trump is not getting anything from foreign officials that conflicts with his duties as president. In other words, they are making the case that foreign officials are not doing business with Trump's companies with the expectation that he will do something for them in return. Ethics watchdog groups like CREW, on the other hand, assert that the ban on receiving gifts from foreign officials must extend to foreign officials booking Trump hotel rooms or purchasing Trump-owned real estate.
Stuart Gerson, who was the chief of the Justice Department's civil division for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, told USA Today that Trump poses an unprecedented ethical dilemma.
“We’ve never before had a president who was branded and it’s impossible to divorce from that brand,” Gerson told USA Today. “It’s blurring the lines because it’s so unusual. I can’t think of a precedent where another civil division lawyer has been called on to defend the president under these circumstances.”
These lawsuits have been complex in part because Trump is being sued both as a government official and as a private citizen. However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told California Sen. Dianne Feinstein at a hearing last month that the DOJ's deployment of taxpayer-funded lawyers to defend Trump is justified.
“It’s the responsibility of the Department of Justice to defend the Office of the Presidency in carrying out its activities against charges that are not deemed meritorious," Sessions said at the time. "We believe that this is defensible and we’ve taken the position that our top lawyers believe is justified."