In Ruling Against Trump, Federal Judge Lets Emoluments Case Move Ahead

WASHINGTON, DC  - JULY 26: The main entrance drive way for the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., July 26, 2018. (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)
The Washington Post/The Washington Post

A federal judge Friday ruled against President Donald Trump in an emoluments lawsuit brought by the District of Columbia and state of Maryland.

The ruling allows pre-trial discovery in the case to proceed and denies Trump’s request to halt the case so he could appeal the court’s earlier rulings against him on various issues relating to emoluments.

The Maryland and D.C. attorneys general sued Trump in June 2017 over his alleged violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, claiming that by accepting foreign government guests at his D.C. hotel, the President is violating the compact between the states and the federal government.

District Judge Peter Messitte’s decision will give the state attorneys general access to information from his business, including several large events hosted at his D.C. hotel by foreign governments at the heart of the lawsuit.

Messitte bench-slapped an argument from the president’s attorneys defining “emolument” as direct payments to Trump in exchange for specific services or policies.

Calling it a “dubious proposition, the judge wrote that “by every reasonable metric, this appears to describe what is tantamount to a bribe, so above all else the President’s definition of the term “emolument” is exceedingly strained.”

Messitte, in addressing whether information and document requests would be too burdensome on the president, took a moment to chastise Trump.

“It bears noting that the President himself appears to have had little reluctance to pursue personal litigation despite the supposed distractions it imposes upon his office,” the judge wrote, before citing multiple cases where Trump either threatened defamation lawsuits (including one against Steve Bannon) and his ongoing suit with Stormy Daniels.

The ruling signals to Trump that – at least in the state attorneys general case – further attempts at appeal and delay would be unlikely to succeed.

“The inescapable fact remains that the President could, on the basis of piecemeal appeals, potentially delay resolution of a good part of this case for years,” Messitte wrote.

Another case filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in New York in January 2017 – alleged that businesses competing with Trump’s hotels and restaurants faced an unfair competitive advantage with respect to foreign government customers because the emolument issue presented them with an unfair inducement to visit Trump properties.

That case was dismissed on standing grounds, and is now on appeal.

Judge Messitte obliquely opined that the judge in the CREW case had erred.

“In a broad sense, all Americans fall within the zones of interest of the [Constitution’s] Clauses,” he wrote. “Nothing in the Constitution precludes business competitors—a sub-class of Americans—from challenging the improper receipt of emoluments by a President who is purportedly engaging in a business directly in competition with those businesses.”

Trump faces another case from members of Congress in the District of Columbia, who allege that his acceptance of emoluments deprives them of their constitutional right to approve or deny gifts to the White House.

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