D.C. and Maryland may proceed with emoluments clause case against Trump

I am reasonably certain that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating influence peddling and profiteering from foreign gifts by members of the Trump family under the Emoluments Clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

Others have already filed legal actions under the Emoluments Clauses.

Today, a federal judge ruled that the District of Columbia and Maryland may proceed with lawsuit alleging Trump violated emoluments clauses:

The District of Columbia allege that President Trump’s business dealings have violated the Constitution’s ban on receiving improper “emoluments,” or payments, from individual states and foreign governments.

The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte in Maryland, marks the first time that a lawsuit of this kind has cleared the initial legal hurdle — a finding that the plaintiffs have legal standing to sue the president in the first place.

In this case, Messitte found that D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) have legal standing to sue Trump over the business of the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington.

As part of that ruling, Messitte said he rejected an argument previously made by critics of the lawsuit — that, under the Constitution, only [a servile GOP-controlled] Congress may decide whether the president has violated the emoluments clauses.

“In absence of Congressional approval, this Court holds that it may review the actions of the President to determine if they comply with the law,” Messitte wrote.

If the ruling stands, it could allow Racine and Frosh to seek internal documents from the Trump Organization, to determine how much money the Washington hotel has taken in from state and foreign governments.

Messitte’s ruling narrowed the scope of the lawsuit to just the Washington hotel, which has hosted events for several foreign embassies. He said that other Trump businesses — including the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida — were too far away to have a material impact on the District or Maryland.

Messitte said that the District and Maryland had standing to sue because they could plausibly claim to have been injured by Trump’s receipt of payments from foreign and state governments.

For one thing, he said, the two jurisdictions have financial interest in their own convention centers — one in downtown Washington, another in Bethesda, Md. They argued that Trump’s hotel had an unfair advantage in the battle for convention business.

In addition, the court said, the District and Maryland could speak on behalf of their own businesses, which might also see clients lured away by the chance to do business with the president.

“The Court concludes that [the District and Maryland] are, quite plausibly, trying to protect a large segment of their commercial residents and hospitality industry employees from economic harm,” he wrote.

The Justice Department, which is representing the president in this case, did not immediately say whether it would appeal.

* * *

In an interview, Frosh said that “overall we are extremely pleased. We won the first round.”

“The basic principle here is Donald Trump is not above the law, and the court recognized that and said that we can enforce the nation’s original anti- corruption law — the emoluments clause,” he said.

* * *

[The emoluments] clauses were dusty corners of the Constitution, rarely tested in court during 240-plus years of American history.

One bars federal officers from taking presents, or “emoluments,” from foreign governments. The other prohibits presidents from taking side payments from individual states.

In these lawsuits, the plaintiffs allege that Trump was violating one or both of these bans, because foreign and state governments have spent money to rent hotel rooms or banquet halls at his businesses.

Trump’s attorneys have said that the term “emolument” was never meant to cover transactions such as this — not outright gifts to the president but purchases made at fair-market value.

The first step in all these cases has been an argument over what lawyers call “standing” — in essence, does the plaintiff have a right to sue in the first place?

In December, for instance, a federal judge threw out one of the emoluments-clause lawsuits, brought by the nonprofit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels ruled that the watchdog group lacked standing. He stated that the Constitution gave Congress — and only Congress — the right to enforce these rules.

“As the only political branch with the power to consent to violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, Congress is the appropriate body to determine whether, and to what extent, Defendant’s conduct unlawfully infringes on that power,” Daniels wrote in his ruling.

* * *

[T]he Justice Department, arguing on Trump’s behalf, made a similar argument in an effort to throw out the attorney generals’ suit. Brett Shumate, a Justice Department lawyer, said that states such as Maryland had no right to sue Trump over these clauses.

“The states are not roving constitutional watchdogs,” Shumate said. He continued: “This is ultimately a political dispute. It should be left to the political process.”

Because a servile GOP-controlled Congress will do nothing — not even its constitutional prerogative to conduct oversight of the executive branch, as they have so abundantly demonstrated.

In his ruling Wednesday, Messitte rejected that idea.

“The thrust of the President’s argument that only Congress can act is particularly concerning,” he wrote in a footnote. “Suppose a majority (simple? two-thirds?) of Congress (the House? the Senate? both?) is controlled by one party — that of the President. And suppose the Congress never undertakes to approve or disapprove the President’s receipt of such ‘emoluments.’ ”

Exactly the situation that we have right now!

“The President could continue to receive unlimited ‘emoluments’ from foreign and state governments without the least oversight and with absolute impunity,” Messitte wrote.

So the third co-equal branch of government, the judiciary, must fill the void and determine whether the president is complying with the Constitution. Otherwise our constitutional system of government would fail from the wilfull complicity between two equally corrupt branches of government.

I would expect the administration to appeal the decision.

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