Democrats’ emoluments lawsuit against Trump can proceed, federal judge rules |
Politics Election

Democrats’ emoluments lawsuit against Trump can proceed, federal judge rules

The Washington Post
President Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, June 25, 2019, in Washington.

WASHINGTON — Rejecting a request from President Trump, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday cleared the way for nearly 200 Democrats in Congress to continue their lawsuit against him alleging that his private business violates an anti-corruption provision of the Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan declined to put the case on hold and said lawmakers could begin this week seeking financial information, interviews and other records from the Trump Organization.

“This case will be poised for resolution within six months; an immediate appeal would hardly materially advance its ultimate termination,” Sullivan wrote in a 12-page ruling rejecting the president’s position.

The Trump administration still can try to delay or block Democrats in Congress from issuing subpoenas for the president’s closely held business information by appealing directly to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to intervene.

The decision is another significant step in one of two novel cases considering the “emoluments” clauses of the Constitution, which bar the president from accepting gifts or payments from foreign or state governments.

The cases, which could eventually reach the Supreme Court, mark the first time federal judges have interpreted these clauses and applied the restrictions to a sitting president.

The “practical consequences”of the court’s orders “cannot be overstated,” Trump administration lawyers wrote, in asking for a midstream appeal before Sullivan’s final judgment.

Justice Department lawyers had asked Sullivan to take the unusual step of signing off on an immediate appeal of his earlier rulings because of the “exceptional circumstances” of the case. “Plaintiffs are now poised to seek civil discovery against the President, including into his personal finances and official actions, which will distract the President from his official duties.”

Sullivan ordered the two parties to begin the process of requesting records and other information as part of a three-month period from June 28 to Sept. 27.

The case is one in a number of disputes in which Democrats are pursuing private financial information about Trump and the Trump Organization, which the president is maintaining ownership of while in office.

In a second emoluments case, brought by the attorneys general of D.C. and Maryland, a federal judge also denied the Trump administration’s request for an immediate appeal. But the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit agreed to review the case and temporarily blocked subpoenas from the attorneys general for financial records and other documents related to Trump’s D.C. hotel.

The 4th Circuit, which reviews cases from the District of Columbia and Maryland, heard oral argument in March, and could issue a ruling at any time.

The congressional emoluments case in Washington was initiated last year by about 200 Democrats, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Jerrold Nadler , D-N.Y. They want the court to order the president to stop accepting payments they consider violations of the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause. The lawmakers and attorneys from the nonprofit Constitutional Accountability Center say the provision was designed to guard against undue influence by foreign governments by barring any “emolument” – meaning a gift or payment – without prior approval from Congress.

In September, Sullivan ruled that lawmakers had legal standing to sue and allowed the case to continue in part because to foreign emoluments clause “requires the President to ask Congress before accepting a prohibited emolument.”

Sullivan issued an additional opinion in April adopting a broad definition of “emolument” backed by the congressional Democrats. Sullivan described the record as “overwhelming evidence” from “over two hundred years of understanding the scope of the clause to be broad.”

Lawyers for the nonprofit organization had characterized the president’s latest request for an immediate appeal as a delay tactic designed to prevent any resolution of the case before the end of his term.

“If the President succeeds in running out the clock, an entire presidential term will have gone by with the nation’s highest officeholder making countless foreign policy decisions under a cloud of potentially divided loyalty and compromised judgment caused by his enrichment from foreign states,” according to the court filing from the Constitutional Accountability Center.

Sullivan rejected the president’s request in his ruling Tuesday, saying he failed to meet the legal standard for showing that an immediate appeal was warranted and might “advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.”

“Even though discovery has not begun, it will be scheduled to conclude and cross motions for summary judgment to be fully briefed within six months,” Sullivan wrote.

The Trump hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, a few blocks from the White House, has attracted a number of government clients. The Kuwaiti Embassy has held its National Day celebration there three years in a row. Lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved blocks of rooms in December 2016. Paul LePage, then governor of Maine, stayed at the hotel and dined at its restaurant in 2017.

Despite the lawsuits over emoluments, the Trump Organization did more business with foreign governments in 2018 than it did the year before. The company said it received $191,000 in profits from large events and hotel bookings paid for by foreign governments last year, money it donated to the U.S. treasury. The previous year the company reported about $150,000.

Categories: News | Politics Election
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.