Karl Racine
Karl Racine Credit: Darrow Montgomery

When D.C. residents voted for Karl Racine as the city’s first elected attorney general, they had good reason to expect more than a paint-by-the-numbers law enforcer.

On Monday, they got their latest dose of commitment and creativity from a politician and public servant who is looking to put his stamp on the office, and perhaps push the bounds of his own ambition.

Racine and his counterpart, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, made national news in announcing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to force President Donald Trump to disclose and divest his worldwide businesses under the emoluments clause, so citizens can be assured their interests, not his and his family’s, are his top priority.

But as Loose Lips squeezed into a packed courtroom in the basement of One Judiciary Square for a press conference that included the national media, the thought occurred that D.C. locals might want to seek similar assurances from Racine.

A glance at social media revealed instant cynicism toward his grand endeavor to uphold the Constitution in the name of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Paine on behalf of the residents of the District of Columbia.

Yet here was the first elected attorney general of the District of Columbia invoking sovereignty and Constitutional principles against what he and Frosh say is the first sitting U.S. president to put his office and the public trust up for sale—to the likes of Russia, China, and Saudi princes.

Understandably, Racine was in high demand. But in between CNN and Meet the Press, he candidly answered a few D.C.-centric questions for LL that could mark the beginning of a public dialogue about this unprecedented lawsuit—and attorney general—which both figure to be around for awhile.

What is the extent of President Trump’s financial interest in the District, and how does that affect District residents and business owners? 

As far as I know, the hotel is the only business the President has that the President is receiving income from. Businesses are in it to make money, and they relish and embrace competition. When there is unfair competition, or a favorites game being played, they don’t like it.

You said in your remarks that you’ve heard from local businesses. What kind of businesses?

If you’re in the hospitality industry, and you have a Four Seasons Hotel, and you have an embassy and a country delegation that made reservations months in advance, only to have them call you and say that they’re not going to go forward with the reservation because they’re opting to go with the Trump Hotel, that’s the kind of real business activity that folks are concerned about.

Are there any other industries the business community is concerned about?

Well, if you look at hotels, they have [hotel] rooms, meeting rooms, restaurants, bars…

You referenced your “legal eagles,” and the many months they have spent researching Constitutional principles and potential causes of action. It sounds like major litigation. What kind of team are we talking about?

It’s certainly big litigation here. And I can tell you that at least seven lawyers have helped on research at given points. It’s the kind of research we’ll have to focus on going forward, which is why it is important to be able to partner with the state of Maryland to be able to share resources and rely on pro bono as well.

How long could this case last?

You know, I don’t know. Federal procedures lay out rules on when an answer is due and when a motion to dismiss can be filed. It depends, quite frankly, on how contested it is, whether the Department of Justice seeks to go forward with it to the hilt, whether we go forward with it to the hilt. And whether the President might seek to resolve the matter the way every other president has done, which is totally divest himself from his businesses.

What will this lawsuit cost?

I have not done an assessment of the cost to the D.C. taxpayers. But I want to assure the District residents of the full functioning of the Office of the Attorney General. And what is it that we do? That is, being progressive juvenile prosecutors, also focusing on public safety, protecting vulnerable citizens, including bringing suits against slumlords, focusing on affordable housing, and also bringing other actions that are in the public interest. All of that work will continue.

That’s a lot to tackle. You listed like five major policy areas. Is this lawsuit a higher or a lower priority?

We are very fortunate that the Office of the Attorney General has  lawyers who can do more than one task at the same time.