Hearings in Emoluments Clause cases go well for the plaintiffs

So many scandals, so little time … it’s hard to keep up with all of the scandals of the most corrupt administration in American history. Judge in Emoluments Case Questions Defense of Trump’s Hotel Profits:

A federal judge on Monday sharply criticized the Justice Department’s argument that President Trump’s financial interest in his company’s hotel in downtown Washington is constitutional, a fresh sign that the judge may soon rule against the president in a historic case that could head to the Supreme Court.

As one pundit recently quipped, “The Trump Hotel should be renamed the Hotel Emoluments Clause.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland, charge that Mr. Trump’s profits from the hotel violate anti-corruption clauses of the Constitution that restrict government-bestowed financial benefits, or emoluments, to presidents beyond their official salary. They say the hotel is siphoning business from local convention centers and hotels.

The judge, Peter J. Messitte of the United States District Court in Maryland, promised to decide by the end of July whether to allow the plaintiffs to proceed to the next stage, in which they could demand financial records from the hotel or other evidence from the president. The case takes aim at whether Mr. Trump violated the Constitution’s emoluments clauses, which prevent a president from accepting government-bestowed benefits either at home or abroad. Until now, the issue of what constitutes an illegal emolument has never been litigated.

Attorneys general for the District of Columbia and Maryland say that by allowing foreign officials to patronize the five-star Trump International Hotel blocks from the White House, Mr. Trump is violating the Constitution’s ban on payments from foreign governments to federal officeholders. They also claim the president is violating a related clause that restricts compensation, other than his salary, from the federal government or from state governments.

In a two-hour hearing, attorneys for the local jurisdictions and for the Justice Department debated what the framers meant by the emoluments clauses, citing definitions of the word emolument in centuries-old dictionaries and quoting Alexander Hamilton and other founders in attempts to discern their intent.

The Justice Department contended that the Constitution’s framers meant only to bar federal officials from providing a service to a foreign government and receiving compensation. For example, said Brett Shumate, a deputy assistant attorney general, the Constitution would prohibit Mr. Trump from signing a treaty in exchange for a financial benefit. But it allows him to profit financially from foreign diplomats who book his hotel because there is “no allegation that in exchange, he took some official action,” he said.

Judge Messitte repeatedly challenged that interpretation, asking whether the framers meant merely to rule out outright bribery or to ward off situations that could give rise to corruption as well.

“Is your argument that as long as the president takes the money without corrupt intent, it’s O.K.?” he asked Mr. Shumate. “It has to be an actual quid pro quo?”

Steven M. Sullivan, the solicitor general for the state of Maryland, argued that it would be absurd if Mr. Trump were barred only from profiting for personally rendering a service to a foreign government. That “would prohibit him from accepting $5 for carrying a diplomat’s bags up to a suite at the Trump International Hotel but would permit him to receive thousands of dollars from the same foreign government” for its hotel bookings, he said.

* * *

The Trump Organization signed a 60-year-lease in 2013 with the federal government for the building, renovated it and reopened it as a hotel just before Mr. Trump was elected president. Since then, the plaintiffs claim, the hotel has made special efforts to drum up business from foreign governments, including appointing a head of diplomatic sales. Mr. Trump himself regularly visits.

Judge Messitte has already ruled once in favor of the plaintiffs. In March, he rejected the Justice Department’s argument that Maryland and the District of Columbia had failed to show that they had suffered injuries.

If he rules for the plaintiffs again next month, the case would typically move to the evidence-gathering phase, which could open up some of Mr. Trump’s financial records to public scrutiny.

Show us your tax returns!

But legal experts said the Justice Department is highly likely to appeal an adverse decision from Judge Messitte. The department could seek an emergency stay, arguing that the circumstances are so extraordinary that a higher court must intervene without waiting for the lower court proceedings to end, as is customary.

Delay, delay, delay.

The federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has another emoluments case on its docket. In February, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit organization known as CREW, appealed a decision by a federal judge in New York to dismiss a suit involving Mr. Trump’s restaurant interests. CREW is also a co-counsel in the Maryland case.

In promising an opinion in just seven weeks, Judge Messitte appears to be acting with dispatch. As he noted during the hearing, federal judges are almost never called upon to decide a new constitutional question.

So the end of July; the clock is ticking. Stay tuned.

In the other emoluments clause case filed by congressional Democrats, a hearing last week also went well. Federal Judge Appears to Sympathize With Democrats Suing Trump for Violating Constitution:

A federal judge appeared to sympathize with the nearly 200 congressional Democrats suing President Donald Trump for violating the Constitution by accepting foreign state favors without first presenting them to Congress and gaining their consent.

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan spiritedly grilled attorneys on both sides for more than two hours Thursday as Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas sat listening to the arguments in the District of Columbia courtroom.

* * *

“It’s frustrating to hear frustration,” Sullivan said in court Thursday. “They can’t do the job the voters sent them to Capitol Hill to do.”

Thursday’s hearing dealt solely with the question of whether the congressional Democrats have standing, or have experienced harm.

Sullivan appeared well versed in the minutiae of the case and pushed back on both sides’ arguments with his questioning. He said that his initial reaction is that a jury probably wouldn’t be required should the case move forward, and that it might be dealt with quickly.

A decision on whether the government wins its motion to dismiss or if the case will be allowed to proceed, could come at any time. Plaintiffs are asking the judge to ultimately order Trump to stop accepting foreign state favors and to present them to Congress for their approval.

In a news conference after the hearing, Blumenthal, who is leading the effort, said he was “tremendously encouraged” and “very hopeful” by the judge’s questioning.

“Each of us has suffered the injury that this provision was meant to prevent,” Blumenthal said, while holding up a copy of the Constitution. “We have been denied the right to vote and the responsibility to consent to the president of the United States taking, repeatedly, gifts, benefits and payments from foreign governments.”

The case cites as foreign government favors Chinese government trademarks for Trump companies, payments for hotel room stays and event space rentals by representatives of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and proceeds from Chinese or Emirati-linked government purchases of office space in Trump Tower.

Ethics experts say the Constitution’s emoluments clause was created by the Founding Fathers to ensure that government officials act with the interests of the American public in mind instead of their own pocketbooks. Since then, it has been applied to the lowest of government of officials up to the president without a court challenge.

Unlike prior presidents, Trump chose not to divest from his assets and he remains the owner of the Trump Organization, a sprawling business empire with 550 entities in more than 20 countries that include branded hotels, golf courses, licensing deals and other interests. His Washington hotel just steps from the White House has become a magnet for foreign governments, including groups tied to Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

The government’s Brett Shumate argued that members of Congress lack standing because “this is a political dispute” and the congressional Democrats who are suing are being injured by their [Republican] colleagues who won’t act — not the president.

“These disputes have historically been worked out through the political process,” Shumate told the judge, adding that pending bills in both houses of Congress on the issue [which GOP leadership will not advance]. “There are political remedies, and the one thing they want, they could do themselves. They could vote today.”

But Brianne Gorod, the nonprofit Constitutional Accountability Center’s chief counsel, argued that the lack of a vote is essentially a lack of consent because the law requires Congress to explicitly vote to approve a foreign state favor before the president can accept it. The burden is on the president to convince Congress.

This is the correct interpretation.

Elect a Democratic House ad Senate if you believe in the rule of law and if you want the Constitution enforced. Hold this grifter president accountable.

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