NEW YORK — Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout launched her Democratic campaign for New York attorney general outside Trump Tower on Tuesday with a promise to crack down on potential conflicts of interest in President Donald Trump's sprawling business empire.
Teachout said she would use the vast power of the office to litigate aggressively against the president, calling previous actions by the state too defensive.
"I will use law as a sword," she said, "not just a shield."
Teachout, who garnered 34 percent of the vote in a 2014 gubernatorial primary loss to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, faces a similarly uphill battle in the Sept. 13 primary for attorney general. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James won the endorsement of state Democrats at their convention last month and has the support of Cuomo.
Teachout is a former board member of a watchdog group that has taken Trump to court alleging he has broken the emoluments clause of the Constitution prohibiting the president from accepting gifts and payments from the foreign governments without the consent of Congress.
The group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington argues events thrown by diplomats at Trump's hotel down the street from the White House are a violation of the clause, and that the president should have divested his holdings before taking office.
Trump's lawyers argue that the constitutional ban does not extend to commercial transactions in which a service is provided in exchange for pay.
In her speech, Teachout said that Trump has used the presidency to benefit his business, and turn "democracy into a kleptocracy."
She noted a Chinese state-owned bank is still renting offices in Trump's namesake tower more than a year into his presidency.
"Every dime of rent paid to him by China is a violation of our sacred Constitution," she said.
Former New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, who resigned last month after allegations he abused women he dated, had filed numerous lawsuits challenging the administration's policies, and used the office against Trump even before the election.
In 2012, he initiated legal action against Trump University, claiming the school to teach Trump's real estate investment techniques had defrauded students. The suit and others were later settled for $25 million.
He also launched an investigation into the Trump Foundation after news reports that Trump used the charity to settle lawsuits, make a $25,000 political contribution and purchase a painting of himself.
Teachout said in her speech that she is pregnant and that has made her more determined to run for office.
"I feel the future growing inside me," she said, "and with every kick I feel more determined, and with every stretch, I am more committed to fighting for freedom and justice."